Can You Die From A Broken Heart?

Heartbreak, Self

4 steps to reduce the stress that new research shows can lead to heart attack after a break up.

Following up on my previous post on the Museum of Broken Relationships, I bring you these recent findings published by the American Heart Association focusing on the physical ramifications of a “broken heart.”

According to research reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association*, the grief of a “broken heart” can produce serious health considerations, not the least of which is a significant increase in the risk of heart attack.

The study focuses specifically on “broken hearts” of the bereaved in the days and weeks after losing a loved one. The first day after a loved one died, heart attack risk was 21 times higher than normal, and declined progressively over the first month.

Psychological stress such as that caused by intense grief can increase heart rate, blood pressure and blood clotting, which can raise chances of a heart attack. At the beginning of the grieving process, people are more likely to experience less sleep, low appetite and higher cortisol levels, which can also increase heart attack risks.

“Grieving people also sometimes neglect regular medications, possibly leading to adverse heart events,” said Elizabeth Mostofsky, lead author of the research. “Friends and family of bereaved people should provide close support to help prevent such incidents, especially near the beginning of the grieving process.”

Here are some tips for dealing with the stress of a break-up in the early days after it occurs. For more about this topic, look for our free webinar, "Making a Clean Break: Finding Me At The End of We".

1. Understand the many faces of grief: shock, denial, pain, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, reflection, loneliness. These feelings are all normal, and you may move through them in stages, or experience them in varying degrees at varying times, cycling through them and bouncing around. The main thing to remember is that these are normal, that you need to allow yourself to feel them all, and that you shouldn't try to medicate them with drugs, alcohol, or the high of a new relationship. Be kind to yourself, notice and make room for each feeling, but choose to respond, rather than react. Realize, if you have children involved, that they will be feeling these things too, but without the coping skills of an adult.

2. Understand that there will be stages in rediscovering the Me at the end of We. During the painful stage, keep yourself busy physically and socially. Use your supports to help you process the feelings. If you can afford stress relieving services like massage and yoga classes, do these things. If not, free stress relievers include breathing deeply and slowly, meditating, praying,and taking walks. Exercise is key in burning off the stress chemicals and replacing them with endorphins, so don't give in to the urge to curl up in a ball and stay in bed. Keep moving.

3. Look for the wisdom you can take away from the relationship. There are good reasons it came to an end, but there were also reasons it developed in the first place. Avoid seeing yourself as a victim. Try to learn any lessons you can about your own patterns and needs. Commit yourself to improving any that you don't want to bring forward into a new relationship. Take classes or webinars to brush up on communication and conflict resolution.

4. Pay attention to self-care. Accept your feelings as normal and natural. Don't fight them, but do things that are soothing. Keep yourself looking clean, well-groomed and well-dressed. Eat well. Stay busy.

Once the painful feelings have passed, a new future will unfold before you. Have patience and love yourself until you get back to that place of clear vision.


*Co-authors of the study are: Elizabeth Mostofsky, M.P.H, Sc.D.; Malcolm Maclure, Sc.D.; Jane Sherwood, R.N.; Geoffrey Tofler, M.D.; and James Muller, M.D. Author disclosures are on the manuscript. The National Institutes of Health funded the research.

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