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Latest Research: Latest findings and research on what works in Alternative Medicine

MindBody Medicine

Can You Die of a Broken Heart?

People can die of a broken heart, according to a 2005 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Giving reality to both popular songs and the mind-body connection, researchers reported that sudden emotional stress - from grief, fear, anger, shock - including the "pleasant" shock of a surprise party - can cause heart failure in people, even in those seemingly without coronary disease. When we are in the grip of a sudden emotion, stress hormones, such as catecholamines, flood the body. This sudden release of stress hormones can temporarily stun or weaken the heart's left ventricle, which is responsible for pumping blood out to the body. In some cases, if the condition is not promptly treated, the person dies.

The authors of the study emphasize that this condition, which has been nicknamed "broken heart syndrome," is not the same as a heart attack, (myocardial infarction), which is caused by blockages in the coronary arteries. The study is limited both by its small size - only 19 patients were evaluated - and the lack of a satisfying explanation for the association of emotional stress with heart failure in otherwise "healthy" people. While they offer several possible explanations, the authors acknowledge that "the mechanism remains unknown." 1

A close examination of the data, however, reveals a possible explanation that the authors did not discuss. Sixteen of the nineteen patients with heart failure and no apparent clinical evidence of heart disease, had at least one of the following widely accepted risk factors for heart disease: smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, all of which can be controlled through lifestyle.

So perhaps a more accurate interpretation of this study would lead us to conclude that to prevent heart failure - whether caused by the sudden stress of strong emotion or a blockage in an artery - follow these accepted guidelines to lower your risk: regular, moderate exercise; a diet high in vegetables, whole grains and fruits and low in saturated and trans fat; control any hypertension and diabetes; and, of course, don't smoke.2

1 Wittstein IS, Thiemann DR, Lima JA, et al. Neurohumoral features of myocardordorial stunning due to sudden emotional stress. N Engl J Med. 2005;352(6):539-548.
2  "Risk Factors for Heart Disease"  JAMA patient page: Vol. 290 No. 7, August 20, 2003,

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