January 3rd, 2011


The dangers of heartbreak

I guess that I was too quick to suggest in my previous post that one cannot die of a broken heart.  Science seems to prove the opposite, as a friend pointed out to me.  So, I suppose, if following a heartbreak you do not find yourself in the emergency room, count your blessing and rely on the age old cure of time to heal your wounds.

In 1969, a landmark study appeared in the British Medical Journal. Researchers followed 4,500 widows for 9 years after their husbands died, and found that they had a 40 percent greater chance of dying in the six months following their husband’s death. After that, the risk gradually returned to normal. And what did most of these grieving widows die of? A heart attack, of course.

Every subsequent study of a person’s risk of dying following a loved one’s death has found a similarly marked increase in their risk for a heart attack.
The article goes on to talk about more studies conducted more recently.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins University were intrigued by patients who showed up at the emergency room following an emotional shock. (...) These patients, mostly women, had classic heart attack symptoms, like chest pain and shortness of breath. But their electrocardiograms looked very different from regular heart attack EKGs, and subsequent tests showed that the heart tissue was not damaged at all. A classic heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when an area of the heart muscle dies. So the doctors realized that this new, rare heart condition, which they dubbed “acute stress cardiomyopathy,” must be an entirely different phenomenon.

The researchers at Johns Hopkins examined 19 patients who presented symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome, as acute stress cardiomyopathy came to be called, between 1999-2003. Most were women, and most were in their 60s and 70s (but one was 27). None had a history of heart problems or chronic stress, and all had just received unexpected bad news (...). These patients had many times the normal amount of stress hormones in their blood, and the researchers determined that these hormones, including adrenaline, were impairing the heart’s ability to pump.
 The full article can be found here.