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Can You Die From a Broken Heart?

Have you ever had your heart broken?

If your answer is yes, you probably mean metaphorically, as that’s how the term is usually used. A tough breakup, the ending of a long friendship, and the death of a lifetime pet are among some of the situations that can bring about such crushing grief that we must equate it to the imagined feeling of a painfully cracking heart. However, some people don’t need to imagine this feeling; in fact, they’ve experienced it themselves. Take Second World War Veteran Clifford Hartland and his wife, Marjorie. Marjorie died “of a broken heart” 14 hours after Clifford had passed away, bringing an end to “the perfect love story.”

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, stress-induced cardiomyopathy, and broken heart syndrome all refer to the condition that sounds like it came out of a Disney storybook. Although it is quite uncommon, you can actually die from a physical broken heart.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is the characteristic weakening of the left ventricle, the chamber of the heart that pumps newly oxygenated blood through the aorta to the rest of the body. The condition usually develops in response to stressful, sometimes “heartbreaking” events, such as the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, surgery, and chemotherapy. When excess stress hormones are released after a stressful event, changes in the physiology of the heart muscle cells occur, preventing the left ventricle from functioning properly.

Image from Pixabay

Broken heart syndrome is usually misdiagnosed as a myocardial infarction (heart attack) because the symptoms of both afflictions are quite similar: angina (chest pain), shortness of breath, and arrhythmias. However, the two can be distinguished by the fact that there is no evidence of blocked heart arteries or permanently damaged heart muscle cells in broken heart syndrome.

Interestingly, more than 90 percent of reported cases of broken heart syndrome occurs in women ages 58 to 75. Scientists believe this may be due to reduced levels of estrogen in the body after menopause. And, although its particular role in the heart is unclear, estrogen has been linked to heart healthiness.

Although much of the physiology of broken heart syndrome is unknown, the condition itself exists as evidence that excess stress can negatively impact your heart. So, please take care of your body and try to keep your stress levels in check. Meditate. Exercise. Color. Or, take some time to look over these additional stress-relieving activities.

Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

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