Yes, You Can Die From A Broken Heart, And Here's How

Dying of a broken heart may sound like something out of a Shakespearian play, but it does happen in real life. What happens to your body when you die of heartbreak can be physically as well as emotionally painful, and it can happen to even the healthiest of people. Even in the best of breakup scenarios, broken heart syndrome is completely possible. Luckily it's rare, but that doesn't make the condition any more dread-inducing and fascinating. 

Although it may sound poetic, broken heart syndrome is no romantic matter. It is fairly sudden, painful, and difficult to detect. Its cause? You can be offed by this condition because you just can't get over your ex and feel deeply hurt over a severe loss or trauma.

If you've just been broken up with in one of the worst ways possible, don't panic and assume it's a death warrant. Here are the facts about broken heart syndrome, what it does to your body, and how it might feel to die from losing someone or something you love. 

  • It's An Actual Medical Condition
    Photo: NelC / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    It's An Actual Medical Condition

    Now, before you go passing this off as some sort of phony fad disease the Internet made up, know that this is a real condition recognized by the medical community. Broken heart syndrome is also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy, or even takotsubo cardiomiopothy. The takotsubo part of the name comes from the Japanese word for "octopus trap." This is to draw a comparison to the shape of the heart when it's afflicted with this condition. 

    You can be medically tested for broken heart syndrome. Doctors can give you an ECG, blood tests, and will ask your full medical history before proceeding with other tests. Then, you will be given an angiogram to look at your coronary arteries for blockages, and you may have a echocardiogram and an MRI scan. Through these tests, doctors can actually see that your heart looks and acts abnormal, and confirm a diagnosis.

  • It's More Likely To Happen To Women
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    It's More Likely To Happen To Women

    While death from a broken heart can happen to anyone, it is more likely to happen to women than men. Women make up 90% of broken heart syndrome cases. The women affected tend to be over fifty years of age, and unfortunately, it is also more likely to be fatal for this demographic. Other people who are more disposed to this condition include people with a history of neurologic problems and people with a history of mental health problems. 

    All that being said, there have been cases of both men and women who are healthy dying of broken heart syndrome.

  • It Can Happen To Folks With The Healthiest Of Hearts
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    It Can Happen To Folks With The Healthiest Of Hearts

    One of the most distressing things about this condition is that although certain folks are more likely to be impacted by it, it can actually happen to ANYONE. Extreme loss is experienced in every race, creed, and society, so no one is immune to this condition. In the United States alone, there were more than 6,200 cases of broken heart syndrome in the year 2012. 

    In 2006, a mere 300 cases of broken heart syndrome were documented, a far cry from numbers since. Luckily, this is probably not because the world just just getting worse and more people are experiencing loss. Instead, more physicians are beginning to recognize and diagnose the problem, so more cases are being caught rather than being passed off or misdiagnosed.

  • It Was First Discovered In Japan
    Photo: Molly Des Jardin / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    It Was First Discovered In Japan

    While many people throughout history have been thought to have died of a broken heart, this condition is relatively new to the medical vernacular. As you might guess, given its Japanese moniker, the condition was first given a real name in Japan in 1990. The condition had been discussed somewhat before, but it took a cardiologist by the name of Hikaru Sato to confirm it as a real diagnosis. 

    Sato was examining the ECG of a patient undergoing coronary angiography when he noticed that the heart data looked strange. The muscles weren't acting right. He theorized that this was a different condition than a heart attack or other cardiac events. In 1991, Sato and his team found a case that they they diagnosed positively as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, and Sato began keeping track of what type of people got it and how it impacted their health. He also quickly found that the condition was related to stress from tragedy and trauma, and that it could definitely be fatal.

  • Your Brain Releases A Ton Of Stress Hormones When You're Sad
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    Your Brain Releases A Ton Of Stress Hormones When You're Sad

    So, why exactly does this all happen? To be honest, the medical community doesn't know all of the details, but they do think it has to do with our brains and bodies reacting to sadness and stress. Seventy five percent of people with broken heart syndrome report a very recent stressful event or tragedy that has acted as a trigger. This can be a break up, the death of a loved one, or even a natural disaster such as an earthquake. When our bodies go through something like this, our brain has no choice but to respond, and this is believed to be a possible cause of the condition. 

    When your brain perceives that something terribly stressful has happened, it releases stress hormones into your blood stream. These hormones go directly to your heart, and often times your heart is just not equipped to handle it. Your heart cannot deal with all the adrenaline and other hormones hitting it so continuously, and so it becomes somewhat "stunned." From there, it can easily go from bad to worse.

  • Parts Of Your Heart Will Suddenly Enlarge

    When those hormones hit your heart, it physically changes. There's so much stress on the heart that the left ventricle, the part of the heart that does all the heavy pumping, is forced into a new shape. It balloons out into a sort of long, thin shape with a narrow neck. It may look deflated, as you can see in the image above, and is a sign that your heart is not working properly. This is also an indicator that the left ventricle is going to have trouble pumping the way it did before. Meanwhile, the rest of the heart continues to pump just like normal, or sometimes harder and faster, which can be hard for your heart to handle. 

    While this may only show up through medical tests, you will notice a shortness of breath or chest pain as the condition begins. You may just mistake this for symptoms of sadness from a loss you are experiencing, but in reality, it's a sign that something more sinister is taking place.