How Having a Broken Heart Can Kill You

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The pain of a heartache is real, and having a broken heart, be it from a horrific breakup or death, can actually kill you.

Being deeply in love with someone and losing that person can leave you in a state of such severe distress, which can swell your heart muscle, inducing a heart attack. Although this is wildly extreme, if someone loses their partner — this is especially prevalent for couples who are deeply in love and who have been married for years — the widowed spouse may end up also passing shortly after.

My grandparents were married for 66 years and after my grandfather died, my grandmother was left devastated. She so perfectly and tragically compared her pain to “losing my right arm.” We kept a close eye on her to make sure that she knew that she had my family as reason to still go on living, despite the tremendous heartbreak she was suffering from. When heart break is so strong that it affects your health, it is referred to as broken heart syndrome and can occur after the death of a loved one or after the “death” of a relationship.

Broken heart syndrome, as defined by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “is a condition in which extreme stress can lead to heart muscle failure. The failure is severe, but often short-term.” This condition occurs in the same way as a heart attack, only those who experience broken heart syndrome have fairly normal coronary arteries, whereas those who suffer a normal heart attack usually have blocked arteries. The heart cells are “stunned” by a stress hormone, but not killed, the way they would be should you have a normal heart attack — just to give you a taste of the severity of the condition.

Researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that a person’s risk of suffering a heart attack increases by 21 times in the first 24 hours after losing a loved one or a similar trauma, like a devastating divorce or breakup. These same researchers, over the course of five years, interviewed 2,000 patients who had suffered a heart attack, questioning them about events that occurred before the heart attack.

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The results were published in the journal Circulation, and show that the risk of a heart attack is eight times higher than normal in the week following the death of a loved one. Thankfully though, it slowly declines as the weeks go on but remains elevated for at least one month after the trauma.

Dealing with loss is an ongoing process and shouldn’t be done alone. Going through the stages of grief is natural, and it’s important to seek counseling, and reach out to family, friends, and loved ones for support. Talking and sharing feelings is key in the healing process. During your time of grief, throwing yourself into your favorite activities and hobbies, whatever they may be, will help to free your mind, body, and soul.

A reminder to all, to take care of your heart, and know that life goes on.

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