You Can, In Fact, Die Of A Broken Heart, According To Research

Here's how grief affects the body.

devastated woman holding hand over her heart - Yuri A | Shutterstock

New research shows that a broken heart can actually kill you. 

A study published in Ageing and Immunity found that elderly people who have just experienced the death of a loved one are more vulnerable to infectious diseases.

You can, in fact, die of a broken heart says research.

RELATED: Do These 8 Things After A Breakup To Heal Your Broken Heart ASAP


Anna Phillips, a professor of behavioral medicine at the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise, and Rehabilitation Sciences studied two small groups of mourners. One group had an average age of 32, and the other group was significantly older with an average age of 72. There was a third group that acted as the control by being the ones who hadn't lost a loved one.

“You know when you hear about an older couple and one of the spouses dies, and then a short time afterward, even though the other one was relatively healthy, they die [as well]?” said Phillips, “We wanted to get into the science behind that and see how this effect of bereavement was getting inside the body and speeding up mortality.”


RELATED: 7 Subtle Signs It’s Time For You To Move On From Your Partner

After they compared each group's health they found that the elderly mourners had less function in their white blood cells, which typically help fight off infections. The younger group of mourners seemed to only be affected psychologically.

“Even though [members of] the bereaved younger group were equally as psychologically affected, we didn’t see the physiological changes that you see in the older group,” Phillips said, a difference the researchers attribute to age-related hormone fluctuations.

Cortisol is a stress hormone in the body, and the effects of it weaken the immune system. It is balanced by a hormone called DHEA, which bolsters the effectiveness of neutrophils. But when someone turns 30, their DHEA levels start to drop, leaving their immune system more vulnerable to cortisol’s influence in times of stress.


RELATED: 9 Things You Definitely Shouldn't Do After A Breakup

That would explain why you hear of so many elderly couples dying within hours of each other but don't get the same headlines for couples in their younger years.

So it turns out “broken heart syndrome” is a real thing. The scientific term for it is known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, and it happens when extreme emotional stress causes one of the heart’s chambers to balloon, triggering symptoms similar to those of a heart attack. Unlike in a heart attack, though, the condition is usually reversible and very rarely fatal, according to the American Heart Association, with a recovery time as short as a few days.

So, looks like dying of a broken heart doesn't only happen in The Notebook.


RELATED: 11 Signs You Have Emotional Trauma From A Broken Heart

Nicole Weaver is a senior writer for Showbiz Cheat Sheet whose work has been featured in New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, and more.