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"Broken Heart Syndrome" Is an Actual Thing—& Yes, It Can Kill You

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As if people going through a breakup didn't already have enough to worry about, it turns out a broken heart can, in some cases, be a fatal condition. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), Broken Heart Syndrome, or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, is a very real condition that can happen to anyone. Though not always deadly, doctors say it's important to know the signs so your heartbreak doesn't lead to a series of heartbreaks.



The condition is caused by a sudden traumatic of stressful event in the victim's life. The sudden influx of stress-hormones flooding the heart shock the left ventricle and cause it to stop working, though the rest of the heart continues to pump. Victims will then begin to experience symptoms similar to those of a heart attack: chest pain, shortness of breath, and distinctive electrocardiogram changes. But, unlike a heart attack, when checking with an angiogram, physicians will find no blockages of the bloodstream.


If a patient already suffers from "congestive heart failure, low blood pressure, shock, or heart rhythm abnormalities" the condition could be very dangerous, though most manage to recover within a few weeks. According to Dr. Harmony Reynolds, the director of the Soter Center for Women's Cardiovascular Research, it's important to get checked by a doctor if you're experiencing any strange symptoms:

I think there are probably plenty of people who don't even come to the hospital if they're having it in the context of an emotional stress. It would be a mistake to say 'Oh this isn't broken heart syndrome, I'm just upset now' and to stay home. It's really important to get to the hospital.


Broken Heart Syndrome is a relatively new diagnosis. Japanese Researchers encountered and studied the condition for the first time in only 1990. They called it "takotsubo cardiomyopath," naming it after the Japanese octopus traps called "tako tsubo," which resemble the heart's affected ventricle. Since then, doctors have been using heart dysfunction tests to diagnose the malady, though Reynolds admits there's still a long way to go:

But there isn't the kind of test where we could do a blood test and say 'Oh yeah, that's takotsubo.'


Some celebrities are posthumously suspected to be victims of broken heart syndrome. Debbie Reynolds, who passed away a day after her daughter Carrie Fischer, and Johnny Cash, who died less than a month after his wife June Carter Cash, may have been affected.

Anyone can contract Broken Heart Syndrome, even with no prior history of heart issues, though the disease does have a disproportionate effect on post-menopausal women.


The next time you're feeling blue, take a moment to make sure the pains in your chest are only figurative! It never hurts to be safe.

H/T - Insider, American Heart Association