Can You Die Of A Broken Heart?


Can You Die Of A Broken Heart? A Closer Look At Broken Heart Syndrome

Life is as beautiful as it is fickle. And while musicians often sing about the woes of having their hearts broken, you can die of a broken heart. Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, is real. But, how is it possible to die from a broken heart? And is there a treatment for it?

Back in December 2016, Carrie Fisher, who rose to fame playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars series, passed away. Her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died the following day. Reports came in that stated that the emotional distress of losing Carrie triggered broken heart syndrome, which resulted in Debbie's passing. The events had individuals wondering if broken heart syndrome can cause death.

On Monday, former President George H.W. Bush was rushed into intensive care after his first lady, Barbara Bush, passed away last week. And although we know that President Bush was admitted to the hospital for a blood infection (not broken heart syndrome) and is responding well to treatment, people are asking the same types of questions. How might the death of a loved one affect a person? Can you actually die of a broken heart? What is broken heart syndrome and what happens when you have it? We look towards science, psychology, and statistics of broken heart syndrome so that you can stay informed to stay on top of your health.

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Photo by James Graham on Unsplash

What Is Broken Heart Syndrome?

Broken heart syndrome is also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy when it was first reported in Asian populations. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the condition is when there is extreme stress that can lead to heart muscle failure. And while the failure is severe, it is not long-lived. However, the condition can cause death in some cases.

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What Causes Death From A 'Broken Heart'?

The exact cause is not fully known. However, we know that most cases that have been reported are often triggered by extreme emotional or physical stress. For example, grief or even surprise. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, it is believed that as a response to the stress, hormones "stun" the heart and "affect its ability to pump blood to the body."

Years of studies have also determined that takotsubo cardiomyopathy is more likely to happen in women. According to Harvard University, the statistics are overwhelming, as more than 90% of reported cases of broken heart syndrome are women between the ages of 58 to 75. Researchers also suspect that older women may be more susceptible to this condition due to lower levels of estrogen after menopause.

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Broken Heart Syndrome Symptoms

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome include intense chest pain and shortness of breath and can happen between a few minutes to hours after the sudden stress. And while most people confuse the syndome with a heart attack, the difference comes down to the underlying cause of the symptoms as well as what happens to the heart muscle.

Heart attacks are caused by blockages or blood clots within the coronary arteries. This stops blood from pumping to the heart and heart muscles can eventually die and cause permanent damage to the heart.

Broken heart syndrome, on the other hand, is not caused by any blockages within the heart, and because the heart cells are "stunned" by stress hormones, the heart muscle will not die and will not leave permanent damage to the heart.

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Broken Heart Syndrome Treatment

So, how do you treat a broken heart? While it may not be as exciting as Ben And Jerry's, it's typically treated by improved blood flow, medication such as beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics, as well as lifestyle changes to lessen any physical or emotion stress that may have triggered the individual. And yes, most patients will make a full recovery after days to weeks in a hospital.