You know that movie, The Notebook? (If not, I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but the title of this post might be a bit of a give-away.) James Garner aside, I think most of us can agree that love gives life meaning. And, without it, well – things don’t seem to matter quite as much.
But is it really possible to die from a broken heart?
It’s pretty clear what the characters from The Notebook would say (again, sorry about the spoiler, but seriously: if you haven’t seen that movie by now you’ve been avoiding it on purpose!) – but is there really any science to back up this old wives’ tale? Can losing a loved one really make you lose your life?
Researchers seem to think so
In February 2005, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study detailing “stress cardiomyopathy” – a heart condition, involving a pattern of left ventricular dysfunction, first described by Japanese doctors as “takostsubo cardiomyopathy” (named, in honor of the shape it creates, after a fishing pot used to trap octopus). Hey, don’t say science isn’t fun!
Stress cardiomyopathy, commonly referred to as, “Broken Heart Syndrome,” is a condition of rapid and severe heart muscle weakness caused by intense physical or emotional stress (such as the kind of you might experience during heartbreak). Patients exhibit symptoms similar to heart attack patients (including chest pain, low blood pressure and congestive heart failure). But don’t get confused: stress cardiomyopathy is not a heart attack. As researchers at John Hopkins explain,
…most of the patients with stress cardiomyopathy that both we and others have seen appear to have fairly normal coronary arteries and do not have severe blockages or clots. Secondly, the heart cells of patients with stress cardiomyopathy are “stunned” by the adrenaline and other stress hormones but not killed as they are in heart attack. Fortunately, this stunning gets better very quickly, often within just a few days. So even though a person with stress cardiomyopathy can have severe heart muscle weakness at the time of admission to the hospital, the heart completely recovers within a couple of weeks in most cases and there is no permanent damage.
Other interesting facts: most stress cardiomyopathy patients do not have a history of heart disease and, from what researchers can tell, surviving the condition once does not heighten the chances of experiencing it again (there’s no long-term damage).
It is important to note that while stress cardiomyopathy can be life-threatening, the condition doesn’t usually result in death. However, that doesn’t mean those Notebook folks had it all wrong – just ask Dr. Ilan Wittstein, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore:
When people say can you die from a broken heart, the answer is absolutely yes.
So that clears that up! But in case you still need more convincing:
A 2012 study showed that after the loss of a significant other, patients’ heart attack risk increased up to 21 times higher within the first 24-hours. Over the next week, heart attack risks remained six times higher – declining steadily over the following month.
The Chicago Tribune quotes several medical experts as agreeing that this phenomenon is “perhaps the most striking example of the link between mind and body.” As Dr. Herbert Benson of the Benson-Henry Mind Body Institute argues,
This is another in a long line of accumulating, well-documented effects of stress on the body. Stress must be viewed as a disease-causing entity.
Whether through stress cardiomyopathy, heart attack or severe depression – science shows that yes, you really can die from a broken heart.
Well, gee – that was fun!
Sorry to burst everyone’s Valentine’s Day bubble! But don’t be discouraged! Love isn’t all doom and gloom! In my opinion (which we’ve already established is one of a hopeless romantic!), love is what makes life worth living in the first place – and, while some might say I’m cheesy, I think anyone who’s seen The Notebook would agree ♥
So on that note, I leave you with a song that shows that no matter what the drawbacks, love’s always worth rushing in :)
What do you think? Ever notice any connections between love and health in your own life (or in the lives of people you know)?
♥ Image: A True Love Story… by Retro Love Photography
John Hopkins University. Frequently Asked Questions about Broken Heart Syndrome. HopkinsMedicine.org. Retrieved: 15 February 2013.
Johnson, S.R. (2012 February 22). You could die of a broken heart, doctors say. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved: 15 February 2013.
Kurisu, S. Sato, H., Kawagoe, T., Ishihara, M., Shimatani, Y., Nishioka, K., Kono, Y., Umemura, T. & Nakamura, S. (2002). Tako-tsubo-like left ventricular dysfunction with ST-segment elevation: A novel cardiac syndrome mimicking acute myocardial infarction. American Heart Journal, 143(3): 448-455.
Mostofsky, E., Maclure, M., Sherwood, J.B., Tofler, G.H., Muller, J.E. & Mittleman, M.A. (2012). Risk of Acute Myocardial Infarction after Death of a Significant Person in One’s Life: The Determinants of MI Onset Study. Circulation: American Heart Journal. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.061770
Stein, R. (2005 February 10). Science confirms what heart knows: Lost love can kill you. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved: 15 February 2012.
Wittstein, I.S., Thiemann, D.R., Lima, J.A.C., Baughman, K.L., Schulman, S.P., Gerstenblith, G., Wu, K.C., Rade, J.J., Bivalacqua, T.J. & Champion, H.C. (2005). Neurohumoral Features of Myocardial Stunning Due to Sudden Emotional Stress. The New England Journal of Medicine, 352: 539-548. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa043046