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Is Broken Heart Syndrome a Real Thing?

Posted December 27, 2022 by Grace Ayafor, MD

Red paper heart ripped and crinkled

A broken heart is sadly a part of life. From adolescent breakups to divorce to the loss of a spouse, just about everyone suffers a broken heart at one point or another — and sometimes multiple times throughout their lives. But, did you know that a broken heart can actually lead to cardiac issues?

Yes, broken heart syndrome, also known as stress cardiomyopathy, is a real medical condition and can even be deadly. It’s a temporary heart condition that’s often brought on by sudden, extreme stressful situations or emotions, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, romantic betrayal, fear or extreme anger. It also can be triggered by physical stress, such as a serious injury or major surgery.

In broken heart syndrome, a sudden surge of stress hormones, such as adrenalin, can cause a spasm or transient narrowing of the small arteries and, therefore, a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart. People with broken heart syndrome typically experience sudden, intense chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating and dizziness.

The symptoms are similar and usually cannot be differentiated from a true heart attack. However, heart attacks are generally caused by a partial or complete blockage of a heart artery, whereas in broken heart syndrome, there is no blockage. Fortunately, the condition is usually temporary and reversible. The heart typically corrects itself in days or weeks.

It's important to note, however, persistent symptoms could be a sign of a heart attack and require emergency medical attention.

If you’re suffering from an emotional tragedy, don’t let it be a detriment to your health. Taking steps to manage extreme emotional stress is imperative to improving your heart health and preventing broken heart syndrome.

While grief is different for everyone, Summa Health offers 5 ways to help you repair a broken heart.

Take time to destress

Reducing stress is key when dealing with loss and protecting your heart. High stress is not only dangerous for your heart, but it can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, drinking or overeating. Try yoga, meditation, journaling, warm baths or other relaxation techniques to reduce stress.

Don’t isolate yourself

While you probably would rather be left alone, isolating yourself can cause more feelings of loneliness and sadness. Engage in activities that once brought you joy. Share your feelings with a loved one to seek comfort and support. Join grief support groups to talk about your stress and share coping skills with others who have had similar experiences. If your sadness is interfering with daily activities, seeking the help from a professional can be helpful, too. Having a strong support system in place is an integral part of the healing process.

Make sleep a priority

A good night’s rest contributes to a healthy heart, improves mood, decreases stress and more. Plus, you’ll be more energized and prepared to handle family issues and emotional stress. Aim for seven to nine hours each night. If you have problems sleeping at night, catch up on your rest during the day with a nap.

Take care of your physical health

Physical and emotional health go hand in hand. In fact, poor physical health has been shown to increase the risk of poor mental health. As much as possible this season, reach for more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy, instead of sugary and salty snacks, saturated fats (butter, high-fat meats and dairy products) and trans fats (prepackaged foods, margarines and fried fast foods). In addition, avoid smoking or excessive drinking to numb the pain.

In addition, get active every week. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise (brisk walking, swimming or biking) each week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week for a healthy heart.

Maintain gratitude

It may seem counterintuitive, but having gratitude pushes you to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. Research shows the power of positive thinking can reduces stress, improve coping skills and physical health. So, try to be thankful for the many celebrations and memories you were able to experience with the one you lost, and appreciate the wonderful people and blessings you still have in your life today.

Your grieving heart will thank you for taking these steps.


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If your situation is an emergency, call 911.