Everyone experienced a broken heart at least once in their lifetime, whether it was from the loss of a loved one, or friend, or a horrible breakup. The pain it brings may be easy for some, while it may be unbearable for others. For some people, the pain of a broken heart can feel like they are experiencing a heart attack, which can be temporary, but in some rare cases may cause death if the heart doesn’t heal.

      According to Dr. Ilan Shor Wittstein, the program director of the Johns Hopkins Advanced Heart Failure Fellowship, “Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress cardiomyopathy or takotsubo syndrome, occurs when a person experiences sudden acute stress that can rapidly weaken the heart muscle”. (Broken Heart Syndrome, 2021). It is unclear what the exact causes of broken heart syndrome are.  However, is thought that a surge of stress hormones might temporarily damage the heart of some people, such adrenaline. The condition can cause rapid heart muscle weakness, also known as stress cardiomyopathy. It can be caused by two kinds of stressors, emotional or physical. Emotional stressors include grief, fear, extreme anger, or surprises.  Some physical stressors include Stroke, seizures, low blood sugar, difficulty breathing (such as asthma or emphysema), etc. The symptoms of broken heart syndrome can closely mimic the symptoms of a heart attack, including chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, and dizziness. Unlike a heart attack when doctors perform an angiogram of the heart, they find minimal or no blockages in the heart vessels. However, studies show that the levels of stress hormones in the blood are markedly higher in people with broken heart syndrome than among those with a “regular” heart attack.

      When we experience a stressful event, our body produces hormones and proteins such as adrenaline and noradrenaline that are meant to help us cope with the stress. The heart or cardiac muscle can be overburdened by a huge amount of adrenaline that is suddenly produced in response to stress. The overflow of adrenaline can cause the narrowing of the small arteries that supply the heart with blood, causing a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart. On the other hand, the adrenaline may bind to the heart cells directly, causing large amounts of calcium to enter the cells. This large intake of calcium can prevent the heart cells from beating properly.

      The good news is that this condition is treatable. It is rarely fatal and the large majority of patients make a complete recovery within a few weeks. It appears that adrenaline’s effects on the heart during broken heart syndrome are temporary and completely reversible — the heart typically recovers fully within days or weeks. The less good news is that over the following year or so following an episode of broken heart syndrome, some individuals may have another episode or may have to be readmitted to the hospital for other cardiovascular problems and an ultrasound of the heart may still show that the heart has not quite fully recovered from the first episode. (What Is Broken Heart Syndrome? n.d.)

       In conclusion, although it is scarce that someone dies from a broken heart, it is still possible. So yes, in fact, you can die of a broken heart, but it’s also extremely unlikely. Broken heart syndrome may not cause immediate death in most people. Still, it can leave them with lifelong health complications, such as pulmonary edema (backup of fluids in the lungs), low blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, heart failure, or blood clots in the heart.

Work Cited:

Broken Heart Syndrome. (2021, October 16). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/broken-heart-syndrome

Broken heart syndrome – Symptoms and causes. (2022, October 27). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/broken-heart-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20354617

BD Editors. (2019, October 4). Cardiac Muscle. Biology Dictionary. https://biologydictionary.net/cardiac-muscle/

Team, H. A. V. (2021, August 14). Can You Die of a Broken Heart? — And Other Emotional Questions. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/can-die-broken-heart-emotional-questions/

Can You Die of a Broken Heart? (2016, May 31). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/broken-heart-syndrome

What is Broken Heart Syndrome? (n.d.). Lifespan. https://www.lifespan.org/lifespan-living/what-broken-heart-syndrome

One Comment

  1. This post was a very inciteful read as it was very informative on my favorite structure of the body. The paper was about the condition known as broken heart syndrome or stress cardiomyopathy. Broken heart syndrome is a result of when the body undergoes acute stress but can in rare cases include death by heart attack. Typically, this acute stress can be emotional or even physical stress. A large amount of emotional stress over a short period of time can cause massive amounts of stress on the heart resulting in damage through the release of adrenaline. Emotional stressors can include grief, extreme anger, surprises, and even fear. Some physical stressors would be strokes, seizures, low blood sugar, and even difficulty breathing. Although when this condition happens when a angiogram is performed it shows little to no blockages in the blood vessels which is not consistent with a normal heart attack.

    When our bodies go through a stressful event hormone are released like adrenaline or noradrenaline to help our bodies cope. But the cardiac muscle is overburdened with adrenaline, but this hormone also narrows the blood vessels to increase blood pressure. The overflow of adrenaline can cause excessive narrowing of the vessels can cause lessened blood flow to cardiac muscle which can cause large amounts of calcium to build up in the cardiac muscles. This can cause the cardiac muscle to start to die or decrease its ability. This will decrease the ability to pump blood through the heart. In rare cases so much that the heart cannot pump enough blood out causing the blood to back up in the heart causing congestive heart failure.

    This condition is treatable and recovery time is typically a few weeks. Although patients can have lasting effects for the first year and even chronic conditions in some cases. Those conditions can include pulmonary edema, low blood pressure, cardiac arrythmia, or even blood clots.

    Ethan Packard

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