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Broken Heart Syndrome: Can You Die of a Broken Heart?

Broken heart syndrome (BHS) often occurs after the loss of a loved one. Although the condition appears in ancient and modern literature, broken heart syndrome first gained recognition as a physical illness in the early 1990’s. Symptoms of broken heart syndrome include chest pain, shortness of breath, insomnia and depression.

Although it may be mistaken for a heart attack, broken heart syndrome is an inflammatory heart disease. The heart muscle weakens, and the apex of the left ventricle swells, constricting blood flow. The left ventricle is the major pumping mechanism of the heart.

(above: left, image of a normal heart; right, a heart affected by BHS)

Medically, BHS is also known as:

  • apical ballooning syndrome (ABS)

  • tako tsubo cardiomyopathy

  • stress cardiomyopathy

Although patients suffering from BHS may need emergency treatment, the heart usually heals within two weeks to two months. Psychological symptoms may persist.

It is possible to die of a broken heart. An extensive study by the Mayo Clinic found a 3.6% fatality rate in patients with broken heart syndrome. The study also found that patients who experienced physical stress had a lower survival rate than those under emotional stress alone.

One in ten people diagnosed with BHS suffered a recurrence within four years.

Symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome

Physical symptoms may include:

  • chest pain and pressure

  • shortness of breath

  • arrhythmia

  • stomach pain, nausea and/or loss of appetite

  • fatigue

  • insomnia

  • in extreme cases – death

Psychological effects of broken heart syndrome may include:

  • depression

  • constant or frequent crying

  • thoughts of suicide

  • feelings of emptiness

  • the “thousand yard stare”

The “thousand yard stare” is a military term, applied to battle-weary soldiers. In conditions of extreme stress, the gaze may become unfocused, distant and emotionless, indicating a detachment from reality.

BHS is most common in post-menopausal women who have suffered the loss of a loved one or similar intense emotional trauma. A sudden fright, such as a robbery or even a surprise party, can also trigger BHS.

(above: the swollen left ventricle of a BHS patient)

According to Larry Cahalin, a clinical professor at Northeastern University in Boston, broken heart syndrome is “likely under-diagnosed and not completely understood. It mimics a heart attack, in that the heart becomes unable to pump blood to the brain and the rest of the body, with the possibility of life-threatening heart rhythm abnormalities.”

Clinically, BHS differs from a heart attack. The heart of the afflicted person is usually healthy before the onset of symptoms, and the patient often has no history of coronary disease. In broken heart syndrome, the brain releases high levels of catecholamines, primarily adrenaline, norepinephrine and dopamine. Catecholamines are active in the “fight-or-flight” response, and are part of the sympathetic nervous system in humans. The surge of catecholamines weakens the myocardium, or heart muscle, causing heart irregularity, constriction, and changes in the shape of the heart.

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  1. Great article. I have been suffering from BHS for months and indeed around certain times of the month, it gets worse.

  2. I think I have BHS, I feel like I’m going to die any minute from a broken heart. Never fall in love.

  3. I defenatly have it….he ruined my life…i wanna die already….

  4. My husband and i have been together for 3 years, he cheated and i feel like i have bhs, i have all the symptoms and im in pain.

  5. My boyfriend died at age 26 last week. I’ve been having back to back panic attacks and my stomach feels knotted and I can barely sleep. When I do sleep, I wake up repeatedly but I will sleep all day. :( I feel very weak and depressed. I wish it would just take me already.

  6. i dont even have the proper words to say other then I am an emotiomanl wreck who happens to be sincerely depressed and constantly thinking about it being over for me. I try to put on a smile so others wont notice but somedays they see right thru me. I kno I shouldnt think like this especially since i have kids but i am jus being honest. like I try to be and become happy and it might work for a few minutes but my pain has been here for quite sometime i wish it would stop hurting

  7. My father passed of mesotheleoma 3 months ago, as his caretaker I feel as if I failed him. I miss him so much it hurts. Even at my age of \”?\”, I was daddy\’s little girl. It seems as if I can\’t stop crying. And my heart hurts, I can\’t sleep, yet that\’s all I want to do. I can\’t eat and when I do, I can\’t keep it down. Will it ever get better?

  8. me and my husband been together sence hight school 11years or more and we have 3 lids one more on the way i found out 2 weeks ago hes been cheatin on me and kept it a secret for almost 4 months .. we shared everything together i dont know whta ever went wrong i mean i worked gave him my money i never once cheated on him and guess what ? he cheated on me with my younger sister they are both livin with me he says he still loves me to so he wants two wives we are muslim .. i gotta set here and watch him hugg and kiss her in front of me while he also kisses me and huggs me to but im not use to this at all .. i dunno what to do i feel stuck .. i just want the best for our kids and him being here makes him a part of there life everyday ..

  9. used lied to and srung along…..if the bhs dont get my od will

  10. Look for Love 10 percent chance of happiness 90 percent chance heart broken

  11. For years I have felt as though I am nothing, I lost my aunt when I was 13 turning 14, it’s been over 7 years now since then and I have lost more loved ones since then, so my greifing process never had a chance to take a break. Now I feel worn down, My chest hurts a lot, and at times more then what the norm has become. I have a hard time sleeping, I don’t eat much, and I’m usually always depressed. My friends crack jokes about how I never smile, one of them pointed out that just before my aunt passed away was the last smile they ever saw on my face and 7 years later, still no smile. I might be a part of the small % who are male and suffer from (BHS)

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