Can You Die From a Broken Heart?

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Most adults have suffered from one, but can you actually die of a broken heart?

Broken hearts are such a fundamental aspect of human life that there have been countless poems, songs and stories written about them. They’re so common that people often take them for granted, but sometimes a life event occurs that really makes you reflect on the deep pain you can feel.

Consider how the loss of a beloved pet can affect a person. Anyone who’s a pet owner knows the kind of devastation that comes with such a loss. For many people, you might say that their pets were their first loves. These pets were in their lives before they had their first girlfriends and boyfriends, before they went to college, before they got their first real jobs and before they married even. When they pass, that loss is very much like the loss of a person.

Loss of a pet is something pet owners prepare themselves for from a logical standpoint. Despite that, sorrow often floods homes in a way that families aren’t prepared for. Children can be drenched in sadness, mope about and not want to participate in their usual activities. Parents will often have a harder time emotional than their kids. After all, they’re less resilient in some ways and often have to deal with so many reminders around the home. These reminders bring memories, which bring the sadness and pain to the forefront.

It’s often amazing how very real and physical that pain feels, and there may be something more to it than just seeming that way. In fact, medical science all over the world has long recognized correlations between heart attacks, for instance, and depression. People who have suffered heart damage are more prone to depression, but some scientists are determined to discover whether people who suffer depression are more prone to heart trouble and other manifestations as well.

It’s not so outlandish. Consider that a Japanese study in the 1990s linked grief to heart problems. The study concerned five patients who had experienced the symptoms of a heart attack but hadn’t demonstrated the blockages normally associated with such an event. These patients had all recently experienced the death of a loved one and were also experiencing forceful contracting and tight stretching of the left ventricle. Whether the stress was from physical or emotional sources was unclear, but what was clear is that the stress was very real and had led to a condition that has since been named for the study. In English, it’s referred to as the Broken Heart Syndrome.

BHS has been studied since by medical professionals throughout the West. In one case, European scientists studied BHS symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain. Their goal was to discover a means of detecting these risks, such as through electrical activity. To do this, they studied more than 100 unique patients who had demonstrated symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome as well as electrical problems related to the heart. Many of these patients required intensive care at one point because they had experienced a near total collapse of the heart. Yet in every case, those heart problems, just like the grief itself, had eventually worked themselves out.

Cases like this aren’t usual. Most people will deal with the stresses that life brings and never experience the kind of severe physical pressure that comes with a heart attack. Fewer so will have to deal with physical manifestations such as the left ventricle issues discussed earlier. Nevertheless, it makes sense to recognize the potential for such manifestations and act accordingly. Even if you’re in great shape and your doctor has given you the all clear, don’t ignore heart discomfort, and don’t shirk off breath shortness as anxiety. Pay attention to the signs, and be even more vigilant when you’re dealing with significant grief, such as the loss of a loved one.

Whether you’re dealing with the loss of a beloved pet or a family member with whom you had deep bonds, that pain is real, and the pain is poignant whether you were prepared for the loss or it took you by surprise. Preparation may even be an oxymoron in this sense. The good news is that when it comes to grief, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but in the meantime, you need to listen to you heart in both a literal and figurative sense.