Though it may seem far-fetched to think that emotional pain could have such a drastic impact on the physical body, it is possible for a heart to (literally) break.
Intense emotional stress, such as the death of a loved one, can result in a serious (but reversible) heart condition called broken heart syndrome. And, according to the American Heart Association, broken heart syndrome - also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy - can strike even if you're healthy.
What is broken heart syndrome?
Broken heart syndrome is a temporary condition that impairs the heart's ability to pump effectively. The syndrome causes the left ventricle to narrow and develop a rounded bottom.
It occurs when a person is under sudden physical or emotional stress, and causes symptoms that mimic those of a heart attack - chest pain, irregular heartbeat and shortness of breath.
In fact, it is difficult to tell the difference between broken heart syndrome and a heart attack. Both can have changes in electrocardiograms (EKGs) and blood tests, so doctors rely on other tests that allow them to look for left ventricle abnormalities that indicate broken heart syndrome.
Who is at risk for broken heart syndrome?
While the syndrome does occur in both genders, a recent literature review found that 90 percent of broken heart cases occur in postmenopausal women.
The condition typically occurs in women who are aged 60 years and older. The reasons why the condition occurs more in women is still uncertain. However, researchers think sex hormones may play a role.
Can you really die from broken heart syndrome?
The condition typically resolves within one or two months, but it does have the potential to lead to serious, life-threatening complications - like heart failure, heart rhythm disorders and stroke in some cases.
However, it's unlikely that a person will die from broken heart syndrome and most people make a full recovery with the aid of beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors.