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The Medical Explanation for Dying of a Broken Heart

♫ Don't go breaking my heart ♫ (No, really, I could die.)

It’s not just a romantic sentiment found in movies or novels. You really can die of a broken heart. Victims of a broken heart often share characteristics with heart attack victims: chest pain, shortness of breath, an elevated electrocardiogram and elevated cardiac enzyme levels. The mysterious part? Often the victims don’t have the main component of a heart attack: clogged arteries.

The condition was first discovered by a Japanese researcher in 1990 and dubbed Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, after the shape of a Japanese fishing pot, which also resembles the shape of the left ventricle in the heart. For those that suffer a broken heart, they have usually been under undue stress due to the loss of a loved one or emotional stress. The occurrence then affects the left ventricle, which is responsible for pumping blood, making it weaken and mimic a heart attack.

The condition is more commonly known as “broken heart syndrome,” and may be responsible for the recent death of star Debbie Reynolds, who passed away shortly after her daughter, the multi-talented Carrie Fisher, unexpectedly suffered a fatal heart attack.

Broken heart syndrome seems to affect women more than men and is most common in post-menopausal women. Scientists believe that low estrogen levels may put them at especial risk when an overload of stress hormones flood the heart. In some cases, the symptoms may go away, in others it can lead to heart failure and in a few cases, death. More research is needed, but it appears that stress hormones may damage part of the heart, while the rest of it remains functional. This can lead to long-term cardiovascular issues for those that survive a broken heart.

Through the years, doctors have documented incidences of couples where one partner dies shortly after the other. Last year, a couple married for 63 years died within hours of one another in the same hospital room.

[Image via Getty]

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