Broken Heart Syndrome: Is It a Real Condition?

A man collects a broken heart in his hands. Concept of love and relationships. Family psychotherapist services. Reconciliation. Saving the family. Search for compromises. Search for the second half.
A man collects a broken heart in his hands. Concept of love and relationships. Family psychotherapist services. Reconciliation. Saving the family. Search for compromises. Search for the second half.

The heart is one of our most critical organs, as it’s responsible for pumping oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the rest of your body. Although its principal role is in circulation and helping your body stay alive, many cultures have long associated this vital organ with strong emotions.

In the English language alone, there are many words and phrases that connote the link between the heart and emotionality, such as “heartbreaking” or “this warms my heart”. It’s an organ that seemingly changes its behavior when we feel different emotions. 

There even are reports of people “dying of a broken heart,” often following overwhelming grief or sadness. However, is there any scientific evidence behind this? Is the so-called “broken heart syndrome” a real illness? Let’s explore the facts.

How Do Emotions Affect the Heart?

Many studies have attempted to link heart health with emotions. Research has found that strong negative emotions, such as anxiety, anger, and depression are critical risk factors in various heart conditions. They can be powerful stressors that can affect the organ’s functions, and over time, affect your health.

Negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, and depression, have emerged as potentially important risk factors for coronary heart disease. Strong stressors also serve as catalysts to heart attacks and other issues with the vital organ.

Can You Die of a Broken Heart?

Although “dying of a broken heart” sounds like a line out of a sappy romance novel, it’s a surprisingly real phenomenon. Broken heart syndrome, or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, is a condition that affects one chamber of the heart and occurs due to emotional stress. 

Japanese physicians first discovered this condition, and they termed it “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy” because the shape of the left ventricle (the heart’s thickest chamber) resembles that of an octopus trap (“takotsubo” in Japanese).

Broken heart syndrome is fairly rare, as it happens in 3% of patients presenting with a heart attack. Dying of the condition is even more uncommon because it’s usually a treatable condition and many individuals recover fully within a few weeks. However, some patients are not so lucky.

What Are the Symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome?

Many patients with broken heart syndrome visit the hospital because of a suspected heart attack, and they share some similar symptoms. Patients can experience shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, and even fainting. However, scans of the heart don’t show the telltale blockages that cause heart attacks. They may also have a significant amount of stress hormones in their blood samples.

What Causes Broken Heart Syndrome?

A third of patients with broken heart syndrome report encountering emotional stressors before the symptoms start, such as grief or anger—which is where the condition got its name. However, another third said that they experienced physical stressors like infections, strokes, or asthma attacks. The remaining third develop the illness without any triggers at all.

How to Avoid Broken Heart Syndrome

As mentioned above, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is treatable and is rarely fatal. However, some patients may have recurring episodes of the illness. There are many things that one can do to avoid it, such as cultivating positivity, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and steering clear of damaging habits like smoking.

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Broken heart syndrome is a real condition, but it’s a relatively uncommon one that’s rarely fatal. Emotional and physical stressors are common catalysts of this illness, and ensuring physical and emotional health can help avoid it.

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