Are Broken Hearts Real?

As Valentine’s Day approaches, seeing cards and teddy bears in every store may cause twinges of pain for people who recently became single. But is lovesickness truly a physical ailment?

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“Broken Heart Syndrome,” also known as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy and first described by Japanese researchers in 1990, is thought to occur when a sudden life stressor mentally overwhelms someone to the point that his/her heart becomes stunned and weakened in a scenario often identical to a heart attack.  

The life stressor is usually devastating and the trigger is so dramatic that the intense surge of stress hormones stuns and painfully alters the physiology of the heart. This results in symptoms such as sudden and severe chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue or palpitations. According to Dr. Ali Haider, an interventional cardiologist trained at Northwell Health, “In the vast majority of cases, this is a self-limiting non-fatal illness that will resolve on its own without any residual permanent damage.”

Can someone literally die of a broken heart? It was the question people posed in late December, when Debbie Reynolds died about 24 hours after her daughter, Carrie Fisher. No one knows for sure in the case of Reynolds, as the details were kept private, but Haider said in rare cases, “There can be complications including heart failure, arrhythmias and shock that could lead to more serious illness and potentially death.”

The relationship between the mind and the heart is a very intricate and beautiful connection. Improved mental health is an excellent candidate for better physical health and quality of life and the broken heart syndrome is an example of how the heart may in fact have a mind of its own.

dr. uruj kamal

dr. uruj kamal

Dr. Uruj Kamal is Chief Resident of Adult Outpatient Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center-University of Massachusetts Medical School. A Stony Brook native, she enjoys combining her knowledge of mental health with healthy living. Dr. Kamal has a special interest in outpatient adult psychiatry.