At some point in our lives we’ve all suffered from a broken heart. The pain of losing someone we love is so profound it’s been a central theme of poems, lyrics, plays, movies and even online casino games Play Love Machine slot on your PC, tablet or mobile phone and you’ll get paid out for matching broken hearts on the reels. Legendary Shakespearean characters Lady Montague and King Lear died from a broken heart and Willie Nelson, Bonnie Tyler, Sinead O’ Connor and Johnny Cash have all brought us close to tears with their evocative songs about broken hearts.

Not Unusual for Lifelong Partners to Die within Days of Each Other

In real life it’s not unusual for lifelong partners or family members to die within hours, days or weeks of each other. Iconic Hollywood actress, Debby Reynolds died just a day after her daughter and Star Wars superstar, Carrie Fisher succumbed to a heart attack. That’s just one example. Conduct a search online and you’ll literally find dozens of sad, though romantic, stories about elderly couples who depart this earth virtually one after the other.

Bereavement Can Change the Way the Heart Works and Looks

Now, the anecdotal evidence of a broken heart is being supported by a slew of scientific studies. According to research conducted by reputable medical institutions in Denmark, Japan, the UK and the USA, the death of a loved one can actually physically affect the bereaved to the point that the heart changes shape and heart beats become rapid and irregular.

Stress Hormones Trigger Broken Heart Syndrome

These changes to the heart are known by a host of fancy names that include arterial fibrillation (AF), stress cardiomyopathy and Takotsubo cardiomyopathy… but is best known in popular culture as broken heart syndrome

According to medical experts any major shock such as a death, divorce, experiencing a natural disaster or even having to make a speech in front of a large audience can trigger a flood of stress hormones in the body. This uncontrolled stream of what is primarily adrenalin forces the left ventricle of the heart to balloon out, thereby affecting the normal rhythm of the heart.

The question is; can these dramatic changes to the heart actually result in death? The answer is an ambivalent ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Young healthy individuals have a fair survival rate and are less likely to collapse and die as a result of a broken heart. The elderly or people suffering from cardiovascular disease, however, have a heightened risk of dying from a stroke or heart attack associated with the physical aspects of bereavement.

Higher Risk of Dying within 6 Months of Bereavement

Notwithstanding age or gender, people who do lose a loved one have a much higher risk (41 percent) of dying in the first six months following the bereavement. In this study the research detected significantly higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines - markers that produce fever, inflammation, tissue destruction and even shock and death - in the blood, coupled with a lower heart rate variability. This the medical experts believe is a deadly combination, as it can suddenly weaken or stun the heart muscles causing the organ to dysfunction.

Huge Increase in Broken Heart Syndrome

Although broken heart syndrome is temporary and reversible - with most sufferers showing a marked recovery after about 12 months of the bereavement - the incidence of the condition appears to be increasing at an alarming rate. In the USA for instance there were 5.2 million cases of arterial fibrillation linked to emotional stress in 2010 but this figure is expected to leap to more than 12 million cases by 2030. In Europe it’s estimated that up to 17 million people will suffer from a ‘broken heart’ by 2030!

Do these statistics indicate that more people are suffering from broken hearts? Medical gurus apparently think not. The more logical explanation is that human beings are simply experiencing higher levels of stress… and stress is a key trigger of broken heart syndrome.

Women Under 60 More at Risk

What is interesting is the condition is more prevalent in women under the age of 60 and is an especially high risk among those whose partners died suddenly or unexpectedly. Conversely, those whose partners died due to ill health appeared to have no increased risk of contracting the syndrome or dying from a broken heart. That’s probably owing to the fact that they were well prepared for the death and were consequently not shocked or stressed out when their loved one finally died.

Studies Prove You Can Die from a Broken Heart

In answer to the question; can you really die from a broken heart? The facts and figures clearly indicate that you can. Shock and grief are now scientifically recognised as catalysts of the sudden onset of an irregular heart beat caused by changes to the heart muscle, a condition that can heighten the risk of stroke, heart attack and death.

Love Lost ‘Will Send a Strong Man to His Grave’

As the lyrics from ‘Die of a Broken Heart’ by Carolyn Dawn Johnson so succinctly put it, a broken heart is ‘The kind of pain that you just can't take, will send a strong man to his grave, there's not a pill that can give you a rest or fill that hole deep in your chest!

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