Originally printed February 2019
Can you die from a broken heart?
The condition, called cardiomyopathy, is a real medical condition. The Mayo clinic defines it as: “Broken Heart Syndrome may be caused by the heart’s reaction to a surge of stress hormones.” The syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy and takotsubo cardiomyopathy, can also affect healthy people. The mental health field has long recognized the connection between mental health and heart health and the effect our emotions have on how we feel physically. The word takotsubo comes from the Japanese word for ocotpus trap that looks like the shape of the affected heart.
The outward physical symptoms include a sudden and intense chest pain. These attacks happen more frequently to women than men. It can occur after a particularly stressful event such as a death of a loved one, divorce or job loss . Or even after experiencing good stress, for example winning the lottery. Which is high on my list of stresses to have.
Inwardly, the physical symptoms mimic that of a heart attack. The heart actually enlarges and doesn’t pump as well. Researchers still don’t know much about it and it is considered a fairly new discovery. Sadly it can lead to severe heart muscle failure, but it is short term. Most people do recover.
Whatever the cause of the physical pain, there was first an extreme emotional pain. I shared in my newsletter that I am experiencing some heart issues and have been diagnosed with a left bundle blockage. Apparently my brain and heart are not talking well to each other, who knew? I certainly did not. I feel it was present in my body for a long time, despite my denial, and it was aggravated by intense grief. I experienced several pet deaths close together and the last one was in May, when Oreo, pack leader, died. To read that post go to https://daracounselling.ca/the-messenger-of-the-sea/.
Maybe you too have experienced illness after a sad, traumatic or stressful life event. I think the medical profession is agreeing with the mental health field and realizing the profound affect our emotions have on our bodies. ABC News Blog in Australia posted about the death of Hollywood’s long time actress Debbie Reynolds, one day after the death of her daughter Carrie Fisher. They think she died of a broken heart. I think so too. For more on the sad story go to mobile.abc.net.au
The reality is that life happens; we are going to suffer tragedy and trauma, and how we cope with it is the key to our survival. Self care is key and reaching out to others – developing a support network that can help pull you up when you are down. As a society we still struggle to talk about things that bother us. Mental health continues to try and shake it’s stigma and to talk about death and dying openly is taboo. Talking and expressing ourselves is a way we can support each other and help end the stigma.
If you are struggling at this time, reach out. If you are wondering if counselling is right for you, send me an email or call, I’d love to chat. Nancy@daracounselling.ca