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Can You Die of a Broken Heart?

Can You Die of a Broken Heart?
Can You Die of a Broken Heart?
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Can you die of a broken heart? The short answer is yes, but man is it rare and it’s all got to do with hormones. But let’s start here; remember the first time you were in love? I mean puppy love. Remember how physical it was? Your heart’s all a flutter. Butterflies in your stomach. Sometimes you couldn’t even talk when you were near “the great one” because you were in such a tizzy. And then the inevitable fate of all puppy love…it ends. Now it’s physical all over again, but this time it’s like you’ve been gut punched. Your belly aches. You’re heart physically aches. You’re sick, man. The break up gives you physical symptoms. So, medically speaking, what’s going on?

When you’re in relationship nirvana, oxytocin and dopamine surge through your body. These are the so-called bliss hormones. Think of them as “reward” hormones. They make you feel great. When they’re in the neighborhood, all’s well, all’s happy. You’re top of the world. This goes on, well, until you’re dumped. Then the stress hormones, epinephrine and cortisol surge, clogging up your arteries. Now, all’s not well, all’s not happy.

Rarely, this surge turns into a tsunami, and you end up with chest pain and shortness of breath. Symptoms that are typical of a heart attack but in fact you’re not having a heart attack. All that’s happening is that being dumped by your lover has literally stunned your heart. Your myocardial cells – your heart muscle cells – are like deer caught in the headlights, they’re not working. Now you’re in real trouble. Now you’re in my world. And even though you’re having the typical symptoms of a heart attack, there are no blockages in your coronary arteries. Not a bit of it. They’re as clean as a whistle. What is happening is this: the bottom of your heart – the apex – is ballooning out leading to what we call “transient systolic dysfunction.” This is simply gobbledygook for “you ain’t pumping the blood” my friend. Because it was first described in Japan, this nightmare scenario is called Takotsubo syndrome.

Now you’re in shock, cardiogenic shock. This means you’re blood pressure is low and no part of your body, including your brain, is getting the oxygen it needs to keep going. Of course at this point, hopefully, you’re in a hospital. The trick for your doctors is to keep you going until your heart recovers, because fundamentally your heart’s good – it’s just on a time out. If your doctors do their job, you’ll be back to life as normal within six weeks.

By the way, Takotsubo syndrome is way more common in women than men and we don’t know why. Could it be that women feel more deeply than men? The way you answer that question tells a lot about you. Personally I don’t think so, and as Takotsubo syndrome is so new and not well understood there may well be a physiologic reason as yet unknown. In other words, we men feel. We just show it differently than women.

Of course Takotsubo syndrome, aka stress cardiomyopathy, aka stunned myocardium syndrome, is exceedingly rare – meaning the vast majority of us go through break up after break up and at least outwardly are just fine. In other words, our hearts function normally but are still “broken” in their own unique way. All in all, most of us just need time to get our head around what has happened. Having said that here’s some DCOC’s advice on surviving the “everyday-break-up” that’s not a “tsunami”:


DCOC advice:

  • Deal with the break up head on. It’s over. Accept that it’s over. Move on.
  • No social media stalking. Checking your ex’s Facebook page every hour for morsels of info about what they’re up to will only prolong the agony. And be prepared for the inevitable status switch to “single”. You know why it’s inevitable – because they are single and guess what, so are you.
  • Avoid old haunts that you went to as a couple or anything else that reminds you of him or her, at least for a little while. Otherwise you’re just rubbing salt in the wound.
  • Avoid desperate texting, late night drunk dialing… Why? It doesn’t work.
  • Above all, no drunk sexting. An unwanted sext is anti-erotic and is about as welcome as a fart in church.
  • Nothing wrong with hitting the Haagen-Dazs or having a couple of beers – but I do mean a couple. Binging on beer or vodka shots or whatever won’t bring them back.
  • Avoid losing your friends because you won’t shut up about your ex. There’s a fine line between healthy venting and obsessing about your ex to the point your friends want to break up with you. This is where professional therapists come in.
  • Finally, if the therapy’s not working, plus you feel weepy and a bit out of control, we have meds that can take off the edge while your head gets around it all.

Remember: the human heart’s resilient, you will live to love, again, and probably will have someone else break your heart, again because we humans are hard wired for love. It’s an addiction AND an addiction I love.  Happy Valentine’s Day!!!


PS: Check out my Valentine’s Day video, Broken Heart, it’ll make you smile…promise!


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