What Science Says About Whether You Can Die From A Broken Heart

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, aka broken heart syndrome, is real, and it can be fatal.

Last updated on Jun 13, 2023

sad woman sitting on couch holding a broken heart Dragon Images / Shutterstock

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 ice cream 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 losing love kill you for real?

Can you die from a broken heart?

Dying of a broken heart may be more than just a figure of speech.


While in reality, your heart can't technically break from the pain of grief, takotsubo cardiomyopathy, sometimes called "broken heart syndrome," is medical condition that can affect someone after experiencing a painful heartbreak from a situation such as the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or severe physical or emotional stress. And while this condition is rare, it can be fatal.

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In 2012, researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center published findings that a person's risk of suffering from a cardiac event 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 a serious cardiac event 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.

Results from a study published in in the JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 also concluded that there's a link between the death and grieving process of a spouse and an increased risk of cardiac events, such as takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

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 associate an increased risk of takotsubo cardiomyopathy with the feelings of depression, anxiety and other emotions associated with grief. These feelings lead to an increased heart rate and blood pressure, as well as other physical risks associated with cardiac events.

Importantly, there is a difference between takotsubo cardiomyopathy and a heart attack, even though the two are similar, and a doctor must determine the diagnosis to ensure the patient receives proper care and makes a full recovery.

Women are disproportionately affected by the condition, with 90% of cases occurring in women aged 58 to 75.

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


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 our body's inflammatory responses. When something serious occurs and takotsubo cardiomyopathy is triggered, the left ventricle of the heart is weakened and an individual could be in danger of experiencing a cardiac event. The weakened, ballooned left ventricle is the key to properly recognizing the medical difference between a heart attack and what is distinctly takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

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Symptoms of takotsubo cardiomyopathy (aka "broken heart syndrome")

Symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden, "crushing" chest pain
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Intense sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heart palpitations
  • Loss of consciousness

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Is there a way to prevent takotsubo cardiomyopathy?

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 stress triggers like receiving bad news, such as a breakup, divorce, accident, or financial loss may be enough to trigger the condition and push someone's body over the edge.

Oftentimes, the condition is temporary and a full recovery is possible after the stressful event has run its course.

It's possible that making changes in order to find healthy methods of managing stress levels and maintaining ;one's overall physical health can decrease the risk of a recurring cardiac event in the future, though there is no proven way to prevent or cure takotsubo cardiomyopathy.


So, all things considered, try to enjoy the ice cream in moderation and be kind to your heart.

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Kait Smith is a freelance writer living and working the the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York State.