Throughout the history of literature and poetry, hundreds of dramatic stories have been told in which some of the characters suffered such grief after the loss of their loved one that they even died of sadness . However, can this happen in real life?
Grief and sadness do not tend to be clinically valid reasons for death, but numerous studies point to the possibility that a healthy person may end up suffering serious heart problems and even death due to great psychological suffering .
Relationship between emotional health and heart disease
Studies attempting to look for different correlations between emotional health and physical diseases, specifically heart disease, have increased in recent years. Some of this research suggests that in people suffering from moderate or severe depression , this works as a risk factor for heart failure.
These studies conclude that the more severe the depressive symptoms, the greater the risk of heart disease. Therefore, it is possible to die of sadness if the person does not monitor his or her symptoms or go for help.
Such is the level of connection between depression and heart problems that the American Heart Association has considered the possibility of including depression in the list of risk factors when suffering a heart attack .
Dying of sadness?
One such study by a group of Norwegian researchers establishes a direct connection between the hormonal imbalance , generated by depression, and the different effects it causes in the heart. According to this work, depression can favour the release of hormones associated with stress, which cause the appearance of inflammatory phenomena or atherosclerosis.
At the same time, other research links the experience of recent grief to the death of the person experiencing it. According to these studies, after the death of a partner, the person is much more susceptible to suffering from a heart condition or a stroke , and this risk is even greater between 14 and 18 days after the death of the loved one.
This same study warns of the grim outlook after the death of a life partner. Because even if the person is healthy, during the grieving process the risk of death from a heart condition increases by 57 percent.
Physical symptoms associated with this grieving process range from irregular heartbeat or rapid pulse to atrial fibrillation . These symptoms encourage the development of heart disease or accidents. The most common causes of these “grief” deaths are stroke and dementia.
Broken heart syndrome
Broken heart syndrome is also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, in a heart muscle condition that can occur after very intense emotional stress.
This broken heart syndrome can occur in healthy people who did not have any previous heart problems. Although it is a temporary problem of the heart’s musculature, it can become important enough to cause death.
This phenomenon falls within the classification of myopathies, since the weakening of the heart muscles causes difficulties in pumping blood, leading the person to suffer from heart failure.
In broken heart syndrome, this weakening occurs after an emotionally charged experience, such as the death of a loved one.
Approximately 90% of the people affected by this disease are elderly women , specifically women over 66 years of age. But it can also occur in men or in younger people with predisposing factors.
The list of symptoms associated with broken heart syndrome is very similar to that of myocardial infarction. These include:
- Pain in the chest area.
- Difficulty breathing .
- Arrhythmia .
- Fainting or collapsing.
However, these symptoms rarely end the patient’s life. Only in 10% of cases do patients have a real risk of dying , and they are the ones with symptoms of severe hypotension, decreased consciousness and pulmonary oedema.
So far, the medical and scientific community has not been able to understand the exact cause of this syndrome. Nor has it been able to find out why it affects mostly women.
The main theory states that an avalanche of stress-related hormones released into the bloodstream at certain emotionally charged times may be the cause of this type of myopathy.
This theory details that the abundance of these stress hormones can trigger a contraction of the heart’s arteries; producing an ischemia of the heart muscle and causing the symptoms of cardiomyopathy.
The main difference between this syndrome and the rest of myopathies is that, in broken heart syndrome, the arteries are not obstructed by atherosclerosis plaques, being the person healthy in all physical aspects.
Also, as discussed several times throughout the article, broken heart syndrome often occurs after a person experiences a strongly emotional event .
There is no established treatment for broken heart syndrome. Typically, the focus of intervention is on support for both psychological symptoms following a stressful incident and physical symptoms, through the administration of diuretics and angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors recommended for the management of heart failure.
If treated in time, the mortality rate of this type of cardiomyopathy is less than 5%, and the person will recover completely in approximately two weeks.
Tips to avoid getting to this point
The most important point to keep in mind to avoid reaching the extreme of almost dying, or dying, of grief is to take care of our own mental and emotional health.
Experiencing a duel is an empowering experience if it is done in the right way and without trying to suppress it. In the case of feeling lost or disoriented, it is necessary to ask for the help of a psychologist to guide the person through the different stages of this process.
Also, if the person perceives any of the symptoms described above, it is vitally important that they go to a primary care facility to rule out the possibility of symptoms developing.