Can a breakup actually kill you?

If you are someone who would rather do the killing, you have nothing to be worried about. But if you have loved deeply, sincerely and with all your heart, a breakup just might kill you. The cause - a very peculiar condition called the “broken heart syndrome”. Yes, such a condition actually exists.

The medical term for broken heart syndrome is stress cardiomyopathy or takutsubo cardiomyopathy. According to experts, broken heart syndrome is caused due to a sudden surge in stress hormones which causes the heart to change shape or balloon (usually the left ventricle). This usually happens due to a stressful situation like the death of a loved one or a difficult divorce or breakup. But cases of broken heart syndrome have been documented where people have suffered from cardiomyopathy when their colleagues pulled a prank on them or when they had to speak to a large number of people. Basically, shock which causes the sudden release of hormones (adrenaline) and stuns the heart muscles is said to be the cause of cardiomyopathy.

The scientific name takutsubo cardiomyopathy comes from Japanese. Takutsubo is the name of a type of rounded, narrow-necked vessel, which is used for catching octopuses. The ballooning of the heart due to cardiomyopathy resembles the takutsubo vessel and hence the name takutsubo cardiomyopathy.

Cardiomayopathy is treatable. Though by itself cardiomyopathy is not fatal; it can lead to death if left untreated. Treatment might go wrong in many cases of cardiomyopathy as the symptoms are similar to a heart attack. The symptoms of cardiomyopathy include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in the ankles, abdomen, feet, legs and the veins of the neck
  • Dizziness
  • Light headedness
  • Fainting during physical activity
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats)
  • Heart murmurs (extra or unusual sounds heard during a heart beat)

Correct diagnosis and treatment are essential to ensure cardiomayopathy does not become fatal for a patient. Unlike a heart attack which is caused due to blot clots and blocked arteries, most people who suffer from broken heart syndrome have normal coronary arteries and don’t have severe blockages or clots.

Though the exact cause of a broken heart syndrome is yet unclear and prevention is not exactly possible, the best bet to ensure you know whether you could possibly have an attack is by knowing the risk factors.


  • Age
  • Most often broken heart syndrome is seen in people over 50 since their heart muscles tend to be weaker due to aging. Off course if you are younger but have weak heart muscles due to another condition, cardiomayopathy can happen to you during a stressful situation.

  • History of neurological condition
  • People suffering from head injuries or seizure disorders are at increased risk of cardiomayopathy.

  • Previous or current psychiatric condition
  • Anxiety and depression disorders can be a risk factor and can cause broken heart syndrome.

  • People who have been prescribed a certain medication
  • People who have been prescribed Epinephrine (to treat asthma attacks), Duloxetine (treatment for depression or diabetes), Venlafaxine (to treat depression) and Levothyroxine (to treat people with thyroid disorders) are also at increased risk of suffering from broken heart syndrome.


    It is hard to prevent broken heart syndrome since it has to do with the physical environment and situation of the patient. But it is very hard for a person who has already suffered from broken heart syndrome to have a second episode. Most doctors prescribe long term treatment with medication to block the effects of stress hormones on the heart. And though not scientifically proven, doctors urge the management of stress in a person’s life to prevent broken heart syndrome.

    If you are going through an emotional upheaval in your life remember your health might also be at risk. So manage your stress wisely and don’t let a breakup break your heart (literally).

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