From a horrible breakup to the passing of a loved one, we all suffer from heartbreak at some point in our life. The grief and pain can feel like someone ripped our heart out of our chest. This leads to the common question:
Can you die of a broken heart?
What is broken heart syndrome?
Broken heart syndrome occurs when a sudden surge of stress hormones, like adrenaline, prevents the heart from contracting properly.
Signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome
Usually following an extremely traumatic or emotional event, people with broken heart syndrome often experience symptoms that mimic a heart attack, like angina (chest pain), sweating, and shortness of breath.
Additional symptoms may include:
Symptoms can come on quickly, within minutes or hours following a high-stressful event or days/weeks after a person has had time to emotionally process a traumatic event.
What causes broken heart syndrome?
High emotional and physical stress situations that may trigger broken heart syndrome include:
Grief for the death of a loved one
Extreme fear or anger
Divorce or breakup
Receiving a terminal medical diagnosis
Who's at risk of suffering from broken heart syndrome?
Anyone, at any age, can experience broken heart syndrome—even people with no history of heart disease.
However, women, particularly postmenopausal women, are far more likely to suffer from it than men. Researchers believe older women are at higher risk of developing broken heart syndrome because they have lower estrogen levels in their bodies following menopause.
How is broken heart syndrome diagnosed?
If you experience chest pain, irregular or fast heartbeat, or shortness of breath, you should call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.
A heart attack happens when blocked arteries cut off blood supply to the heart. Your healthcare provider will get a medical history on you and ask if you recently experienced any high levels of stress.
Then they may perform the following tests to officially diagnose broken heart syndrome and rule out a heart attack:
Is broken heart syndrome treatable?
Broken heart syndrome can put you in short-term heart failure, which can be fatal if not treated quickly. The good news is that it's also almost always treatable, and many people make a full recovery in just a few weeks.
Once your physician has ruled out that you aren't suffering from a heart attack or other heart-related illness, they can start you on medications to control blood pressure, prevent blood clots, support blood flow, and manage anxiety and stress. These medicines may include:
Preventing broken heart syndrome
While we can't control traumatic events from happening, focusing on stress relief is key to preventing broken heart syndrome.
To reduce and manage your stress levels, you should:
Avoid alcohol consumption and smoking
Take care of your mental well-being
Talk to a counselor or therapist to learn how to process grief
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