Lifestyle / Health

Hein Kaiser
Journalist
3 minute read
12 Aug 2021
3:05 pm

Yes, you can die from a broken heart

Hein Kaiser

Cardiomyopathy is a very real condition and it can kill you. Not only is the impact emotional, it is physical too.

Broken Heart Syndrome is a very real medical condition. Picture Hein Kaiser

Broken Heart Syndrome or, its less romantic but scientific name, cardiomyopathy, can kill you. In a weird marriage between physical and emotional, this disease shows how closely related our health is to the feelings that we experience, our spiritual state of being.

Understanding Broken Heart Syndrome

Broken Heart Syndrome is often preceded by an intense physical or emotional event such as the death of a loved one, a medical diagnosis, domestic abuse and losing or even winning a lot of money.

“It might be surprising to know that a bad argument, even a surprise party, the fear of public speaking, losing your job or financial difficulties, a divorce, physical stressors such as an asthma attack, Covid-19 infection, or major surgery could trigger Broken Heart Syndrome,” says Louis Niehaus, a psychotherapist who specialises in relationships.

The exact cause of Broken Heart Syndrome is not fully understood, explains Dr Tshego Masemola, a general practitioner. Even physical distress can cause it to manifest, not just emotional trauma.

“When you react to a physical or emotional stress, your body releases stress hormones in your blood like adrenalin, noradrenalin, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones temporarily interfere with your heart’s function.”

What are the symptoms?

Physical symptoms include sudden, severe chest pain along with shortness of breath.

“There is also a weakening of the left ventricle of your heart and potentially fluid accumulation in your lungs. Add to this, irregular heartbeats and blood pressure deviations,” says Masemola.

Is there treatment?

Treatment includes a large shopping list of long- and short-term prescription solutions such as blood-pressure inhibitors to lower blood pressure over the long term plus short-term use of beta blockers to slow the heart rate, diuretics to decrease fluid build-up and anti-anxiety medication.

“And, in severe cases patients could also need cardiac rehabilitation,” notes Masemola.

The heart is mysterious, says Niehaus, explaining that it can be fallible and become weak due to physical or emotional stress.

“I often talk to patients about the connection between mind and body, that we cannot fully divorce our intellect from our body. What we experience cognitively is going to have a direct correlation with our body. Why do we call it heartbreak? Because it is our heart that feels it.”

Philosophers such as Aristotle believed that the heart was the centre of intelligence.

“Today, we tend to dismiss this interpretation because modern science now accepts that the brain is our central processor. The heart, however, is not simply an organ that pumps blood across our entire body, it is in fact far more interconnected with your brain than we may think.”

How is the heart and the head connected?

The heart can often be an indicator of what is occurring within our consciousness too and explains how panic manifests in the body.

“When we are in a state of panic, the first thing we experience is a pounding heart. When we are in a state of calm and at peace, this is reflected in our heart.”

She adds that the heart is not only a reflection of our emotional state of being but can also influence it.

For example, studies have shown that unrecognised cardiac arrhythmias are detectable before the onset of panic attacks.

“What makes this so interesting is that the heart can know the status of our body even before our conscious mind is aware of any changes.” 

We are living, breathing, reactive and emotional beings. We feel joy, pain, heartbreak and happiness.

She concludes that a disconnect between mind and body means that there is a disconnect between your head and your heart.

“As you can see, both influence one another. Remaining conscious of what your body is telling you through physical signs will go a long way to remaining in better health, versus only listening to your head.”