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Discovery: Heartbreak Can Literally Kill

Researchers discover “broken heart syndrome,” which is caused by the death of a loved one.

Most often, we think of heartbreak as a certain sense of sadness and longing when a relationship ends that can only be stifled with pints of Ben & Jerry’s and the constant reassurance from close friends that, “You’re better off, honey.”

But new research has shown that heartbreak is a real occurrence, especially after the loss of a loved one. And it can literally kill you.

Put down the ice cream and allow us to explain: Researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that a person’s risk of suffering from a heart attack increases by 21 times in the first 24 hours after losing a loved one.

Over the course of five years, these researchers interviewed 2,000 patients who suffered from heart attacks, including asking them questions regarding triggering events. The results, published in the journal Circulation, show that the risk of heart attack is eight times higher than normal during the week after the death of a loved one. Though it slowly declines, that risk remains elevated for at least one month.

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Previous studies have shown that one’s health declines after the death of someone close, but this is the first study to discover this “broken heart syndrome.” Researchers are associating the increased risk with the feelings of depression, anxiety and anger that come with grief. These feelings lead to an increased heart rate and blood pressure, which makes blood more likely to clot and can ultimately cause the heart attack. “The emotional sense of the broken heart may actually lead to damage leading to heart attack and a physical broken heart of a sort,” explains senior author Murray Mittleman, MD, DrPH.

It’s interesting to consider that the death of a loved one can cause so much emotional pain that eventually, physical pain (in the form of a “broken heart”) follows suit. It almost makes you rethink that pint of post breakup Ben & Jerry’s, if only to prepare your arteries for the real heartbreak that may someday come. Too gruesome? Sorry.

Sound off: If the death of a loved one can kill you, what about a bad breakup or divorce?

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