Can you die of a broken heart?

After my recent Health-e-Byte about anger causing damage to our blood vessels, I was asked, ‘Is it just the stuff of movies, or can someone really die of a broken heart?’

The answer is: yes, broken heart syndrome is a real medical malady.  

Dying of a broken heart — known as ‘takotsubo cardiomyopathy’ — was first described in Japan after an earthquake in 1990. The word ‘takotsubo’ comes from the name of an octopus trap used by Japanese fishermen. When someone develops takotsubo cardiomyopathy, the left chamber of their heart (ventricle) develops a narrow neck and a distended round base, making it look like an octopus pot. The heart muscle distortion is caused by a massive rush of adrenaline that constricts blood flow, leading to a heart attack. The condition is reputedly rare but it was diagnosed in more than 20 people during the week following the 2011 Christchurch (New Zealand) earthquake, in which 185 people died. Those most at risk appear to be women after menopause. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is also likely to be more common in people with a pre-existing heart condition or other risk factors for heart disease. However, the New Zealand numbers don’t make it sound rare.  

The message is that there is no separation between mind, body and emotions. All our thoughts and feelings have a physical signature in our body.

A study published in the International Journal of Cardiology assessed 300 subjects on their propensity to laugh. Taking into account known risk factors for heart disease such as family history, smoking and lack of exercise, the researchers found that heart disease sufferers were significantly less likely to experience laughter in their lives.

This was consistent with another US study in which 50 heart attack survivors were followed for one year. They were all given standard discharge treatment, and half of them were also asked to watch comedy shows for at least 30 minutes a day. The other half served as the control group and were not given any instructions relating to laughter. 

At the end of 12 months, almost half of the patients in the control group had died, while less than one in 10 of the patients in the comedy-watching group had died. Laughter really is the best medicine! 

Love, joy and beauty nurture us physically, not just emotionally. 

Please share this HEB with anyone who wants to improve their heart health. 

Photo credit: I took this photo during my recent book promotion tour in marvellous Manhattan, New York.

Health-e-Byte: Can anger harm your health?

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