Heartbreak Can Literally Kill You, Says Very Sad Study

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woman that looks sad

Most often, we think of heartbreak as a certain sense of sadness and longing when a relationship ends that can only be stifled with pints of Ben & Jerry's and the constant reassurance from close friends that "You're better off, honey."

When we're dying of a broken heart, we think of it in the figurative sense, but can love kill you for real? Can you die from a heartbreak?

RELATED: The Most Painful Thing About Heartbreak Is Losing Yourself

What is Takotsubo syndrome?

Dying of a broken heart may actually be more real than we think. Because new research has shown that heartbreak is a real occurrence, called Takotsubo syndrome, or "broken heart syndrome," and happens after the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or other stressful situations. And it can literally kill you.

Put down the ice cream and allow us to explain. 

In 2018, researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that a person's risk of suffering from a heart attack increases by 21 times in the first 24 hours after losing a loved one.

Over the course of five years, the researchers interviewed 2,000 patients who suffered from heart attacks, including asking them questions regarding triggering events. The results showed that the risk of heart attack is eight times higher than normal during the week after the death of a loved one. Though it slowly declines, that risk remains elevated for at least one month.

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Previous studies have shown that one's health declines after the death of someone close, but this is the first study to discover this "broken heart syndrome."

Researchers are associating the increased risk with the feelings of depression, anxiety and anger that come with grief. These feelings lead to an increased heart rate and blood pressure, which makes blood more likely to clot and can ultimately cause the heart attack. Woman are disproportionately affected by the condition, with 90% of cases occuring in women aged 58-75. 

"The emotional sense of the broken heart may actually lead to damage, leading to heart attack and a physical broken heart of a sort," explains senior author Murray Mittleman, MD, DrPH.  

It's interesting to consider that the death of a loved one can cause so much emotional pain that eventually, physical pain (in the form of a "broken heart") follows suit. It almost makes you rethink that pint of post breakup Ben & Jerry's, if only to prepare your arteries for the real heartbreak that may someday come.

New research ties Takotsubo syndrom to the brain

A new study out of Harvard Medical School conducted by nuclear cardiologist Shady Abohashem has found even more evidence that "broken heart syndrome" is not only real, but can be tracked over time. Abohashem's team reviewed the brain scans of 104 people to determine once and for all that neurological stress response causes the condition and not the other way around. 

Abohashem's work found that a person's risk of succumbing to a broken heart is more likely the higher their stress levels throughout life. If a person is more prone to suffering from stress, then acute instances like break ups, a divorce, an accident, or bankruptcy might be enough to trigger the conditon and push someone's body over the edge. 

“We can now show that this syndrome happens as a result of chronic stress over years that makes you vulnerable to developing the syndrome more easily and sooner than [less stressed] people,” Abohashem says. 

The specific pathway occurs via the amygdala, which is a region of the brain that's tied to stress response, the sympathetic nervous system, and inflammatory response. When something serious occurs and Takotsubo syndrome is triggered, the left ventricle of the heart is weakened and an individual is in danger of experiencing heart failure. Oftentimes, the condition is temporary and a full recovery is possible after the stressful event runs its course. But rarely, Takotsubo syndrome can be fatal. 

It's possible that striving to lead a stress-free life, or at least, aiming to find healthy methods of managing your stress levels, might decrease someone's risk of developing the condition in the future. Though the same could probably be said of a number of conditions. Maybe just keep that ice cream handy. 

RELATED: 5 Ways To Never Experience Heartbreak Ever Again

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in April 2018 and was updated with the latest information.

Kait Smith is an editor, writer, social media manager, higher education professional, and graduate student; the list goes on and on. Visit her website for more.

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