Can you die of a broken heart? In this episode, learn what Broken Heart Syndrome is and how to recognize the symptoms. Get facts about the latest research that tests the concept of whether or not we really can die of a broken heart. And lastly, what researchers hope these results can do to help clinicians better understand loss and grief and its link to cardiac events.
1:52 What is Broken Heart Syndrome?
4:36 Research and our emotions
7:54 Why we need the science
9:24 Vonne's symptoms
14:52 Testing for a broken heart
18:02 Two key messages
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Podcast episode Death, Culture & Community
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Vonne Solis 0:00
Welcome to another Grief Talk Coffee Chat episode. I'm your host, Vonne Solis.
Vonne Solis 0:13
So welcome to another Divine Healing Coaching series with Vonne Solis. I am of course, Vonne and I welcome you to this particular episode. Today I'm going to be talking about, can we really die of a broken heart? Science now says, Yes, we can. And though there was earlier research on Broken Heart Syndrome that I'm going to be talking about today, that dates back to 1991, a recent study that was just published actually confirms the importance of emotions and how we process grief and loss.
Vonne Solis 0:54
So in this episode, I'm going to share with you what science actually says about dying from a broken heart. The signs to look for if you think that you may have Broken Heart Syndrome, or symptoms that are similar to Broken Heart Syndrome that are very similar to heart attack, but you would never even know that they are related to your grief. And that is exactly why I wanted to share this episode, which I wrote a blog post on in 2019 to update on this topic, but also all things we have as a forewarning can actually be prevented.
Vonne Solis 1:34
I'm also going to be sharing with you what happened to me after I lost my daughter to suicide in 2005 and started experiencing some really difficult symptoms in around 2009-10. And I'll share with you what the doctors told me I had.
Vonne Solis 1:52
So as I said, the idea of dying from a broken heart isn't new. Research does date back to 1991. They have coined the term Broken Heart Syndrome to diagnose and treat what actually may be a broken heart.
Vonne Solis 2:10
So what is Broken Heart Syndrome? The symptoms appear suddenly, such as they would in a heart attack, and are shortness of breath, arrhythmia and chest pain. Because they're really so similar to a heart attack, and let's face it, a lot of us don't even know when we are experiencing heart attack symptoms, in Broken Heart Syndrome, researchers have identified that they are brought on by shock, stress or an emotional event such as a loss and bereavement.
Vonne Solis 2:43
So the medical term for Broken Heart Syndrome is Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy. So the symptoms attack the heart muscle, leaving the left ventricle with a distinct shape and cause the heart to balloon, weaken and contract abnormally. So there are real symptoms that doctors can attribute to Broken Heart Syndrome. So while recovery is possible, depending on the severity of symptoms and or complications, you can actually die from it.
Vonne Solis 3:15
So at the time that I gathered this information and did my blog post on it in 2019, the UK was reporting that they had about 2500 deaths a year related to Broken Heart Syndrome, but that that number may be much greater, given the folks that don't go and actually see a doctor ever or do not get diagnosed for broken heart syndrome. Numbers around the world are very vague, especially on the internet. So there really isn't a lot of information available about Broken Heart Syndrome.
Vonne Solis 3:50
And that's actually probably if you think about it, if we don't talk about certain medical conditions, or they don't appear severe enough. You know, lots of people are being diagnosed with something kind of strange, let's research this, it really doesn't get the attention it deserves. And that's why things slip under the radar, especially for us in our grief. And so with the research that was done earlier, the researchers did not know really what to attribute Broken Heart Syndrome to, but they did believe it was related to increased stress hormones in our body. In other words, adrenaline that we experience after a shock or loss. So that's progress.
Vonne Solis 4:36
So an interesting fact was also that this earlier research identified in brain scans of patients with Broken Heart Syndrome that there was noticeably less communication in the brain between the region that is responsible for our emotions and the area of the brain that is responsible for our automatic responses or our unconscious responses, such as our beating heart, compared to normal brains. But because our emotions are processed in the brain, doctors still have not been able to confirm whether Broken Heart Syndrome originates in the brain or the heart. So they are hoping that cardiologists and neuroscientists can work together and do some research together so that they can really localize where the problem is existing.
Vonne Solis 5:26
So fast forward to a study that has recently been published, inspired by the concept of dying from a broken heart, researchers have now been able to confirm that it is our emotional response to death and loss that plays a significant role in this concept, if you will, of dying from a broken heart. So how have they been able to identify this?
Vonne Solis 5:53
So in this study that's just been released, they took 59 patients who had had a loss within the last year and they studied their responses to specific ideas of attachment and separation to their loved one who had died and measured their blood pressure. And they noticed that over the various questions that they asked, and the responses of the study group, that the more intense grief that was expressed, the higher the blood pressure went. And they've obviously tied blood pressure to cardiac events. So quite a connection.
Vonne Solis 6:37
The point of the study for these researchers, and I'm gonna put a link to the actual article below so if you want to read more about it, you can, was to provide doctors with information that they may be able to assess their patients who are in intense grief from a loss, and could be at risk for high blood pressure, and potential cardiac events. Whether they do it is another thing, but it's a start.
Vonne Solis 7:10
And I'd also like to say, well, this is a no brainer for those of us who have been or are in intense grief from losing our child. Losing our child to suicide. Having another suicide or traumatic loss, we know, or most of us would assume that what we feel emotionally and what we're going through mentally has a huge impact on our physical body. And it's probably not a surprise to you that we really could have a broken heart from a loss, or the intensity of our grief. And even I'll say, for how long we have been grieving. But it's another thing to have the medical world support this.
Vonne Solis 7:54
So in the Western world, it's really important to remember that science needs to back up any evidence found to treat and cure our ailments. And this totally relates to, you know, areas that we struggle with, such as grief, that is so completely misunderstood and unsupported to a large degree, by all of our communities in the Western world. And specifically, I'm going to talk here about North America. I have heard by talking to other people in the UK, in Europe, in Australia, even in South Africa, that they experience relatively the same thing in terms of support and awareness and education and understanding of grief, similarly to how we do in North America.
Vonne Solis 8:46
So in speaking just a little bit earlier about how research has linked stress hormones, and now emotions to high blood pressure, potential cardiac events, I think what's really important about the research is the fact that they're raising this topic again, and reporting it within the medical community through their publications, and really demonstrating to clinicians that this is real, folks. This is real. And I think that's a huge step forward.
Vonne Solis 9:24
So what did I experience? It was really interesting. So I lost my daughter in 2005. And I struggled a little bit with what I needed to do to get myself sort of back in the living world again. It took me a couple years really. And I had to do this and I had to do that. And if anybody is interested in that, I'll put a link to my books page because I outline all of that in my first book, Divine Healing that I published in 2011 and rereleased it in 2018 as an ebook and across the States and globally, actually. And I literally laid out in the first 12 chapters, everything I struggled with through emails I had kept, that I was corresponding with a really, really wonderful woman in the States at that time who had lost her son. And so I was able to go back over a five year period and look at what I was feeling. What was bothering me. And then, of course, more objectively, by the, because it took me five years to publish this book, what I was still struggling with. And in 2018 I was like, you know what? It's been a few years. Thirteen at that point. Let me take a look and see if I need to update any information. Sadly, no. But I did reduce the word count.
Vonne Solis 10:41
So even today, as I look at suicide boards, and other bereavement boards and work with people, I understand that the problems remain very significant for them. As significant today for you, if you are in early, super, super early, like months into bereavement or the first few years of your bereavement. I guarantee that whatever you're going through; situations might be a little bit different, but what's you're feeling, emotionally and mentally and what you may be experiencing physically, millions of people are going through it, too. And just because we don't talk about it as much as we need to, and even are afraid to share our stories, right? This makes it feel like whatever we're going through, we're going through it alone. And it's really scary. And that's why community is just so so important. And I'll also put a link to my recently released podcast episode that I did that speaks to death and culture and community around the world and what's missing in North America.
Vonne Solis 11:57
But meantime, going back to what I was experiencing. So in 2009, I went back to work and I was commuting from the country. I lived in the country, commuting an hour and 15 minutes to work. And anyway, I started experiencing chest pains. I had like what felt like millions of glass fragments in and around my heart area, my entire chest. Shortness of breath. It was so bad that when I would have sort of more intense periods of feeling these symptoms, I couldn't walk. I would have to lie down or sit in my chair, or wherever I was, stall my movement.
Vonne Solis 12:44
I do remember specifically one time walking to go to the bank on my lunch hour from my job, which was a few blocks. And I literally had to take my pace of walking where I just about needed to be in a wheelchair. And I was terrified that I was going to have a full blown heart attack at any moment. And I just didn't know what's wrong with me. So, there was a clinic about a block or two from the office. And so one day I decided, I'm going. I'm just going. And so I went there a couple of times. Did a drop in. Met with a couple of different doctors. And while they did not know what was going on with me, they did ask me, Have you had like any sort of traumatic or unexpected life event recently? And when I said Yeah, well, my daughter died by suicide in 2005. So we're talking, you know, four years earlier. And they go oh, Okay. Well, that makes sense. And then they both diagnosed me with stress. And there was no really treatment for it because they didn't really know how to deal with stress from the loss of a child. On a positive note, they really appreciated my honesty with them and learning about my experience.
Vonne Solis 12:44
Anyway, I had to learn to manage that on my own. And when I finally got diagnosed in 2014, so about almost 10 years after my daughter died, with PTSD, I was able to put all the pieces together and understanding what the trauma had been doing to me even further to what I was just experiencing emotionally and mentally in trying to keep the grief at bay. And, you know, working as an Angel Healing Practitioner helping other people, but kind of not really attending to my own what I like to call hardcore grief. So 2015 was the magic moment for me. Ten years, that I started to go you know what? I need to start to do something for me now. And that's another journey. We're not talking about that today.
Vonne Solis 14:52
We're really talking about feeling these symptoms. And once you understand what you can relate them to. How they're impacting your life and bring moments in of doing things for yourself that will get you to calm down. Calm down. And lots of people say take a breath. Do this count to four in and out and what all you know, all there's, there's tons of stuff out there to help you get through stress and anxiety and so on. But it's the grief piece that when you don't know, well, what am I really going to do about changing you know, how I feel about losing my child? Losing my spouse? You know? Literally having a broken heart. And how many people have you heard, talked to? Read about that they say, My heart's broken. I don't think there's one bereaved parent immediately upon learning about the death of their child at any age I'd like to add, that doesn't say, My heart's broken. My heart's shattered. Okay? Well, you know what? Maybe it really is.
Vonne Solis 15:57
So another thing that I would like to say is that some cities in some countries do test for Broken Heart Syndrome. So you can also check with your doctor in whatever area you're in to see, especially if you're having recurring chest pains. You know, stress, you know, around the heart area, and all that, just to see what shape is my heart in?
Vonne Solis 16:22
I actually wanted to go in the last few years. I did want to go and literally see if any damage had been done to my heart, but there's nothing near the area I live in that would allow me to do that. So because I intend and manifest anything I want, I did have a potential cardiac event last year in 2022, that caused me to go to emergency at the hospital. Which caused them to run a series of tests with me, and allowed me to speak with a cardiologist who reported my heart is fine.
Vonne Solis 17:01
And I did want to say, you know? I was a little bit disappointed that it was fine. Because this is a whole other piece. Kinda like, well, if I have a broken heart, that really does prove how much I loved my child who's now gone. Or in some cases, another loved one who has left us. But you know, that's not really logical thinking. And there are ways to sort of change your mindset around thinking that our love is better expressed the more pain and suffering we're in. And I'll share some more work with you on that. But the point was, I am being honest about kind of being a little bit disappointed that my heart hadn't really physically broken. Despite what I have suffered over the years, in terms of really trying to come to grips with my daughter choosing to die by suicide. There's one to think about.
Vonne Solis 18:02
Anyway, there are two points that I want to leave you with in terms of talking about this subject. One, if you are experiencing anything, anywhere in the body, that you really can't make sense of it, think of it in terms of being related to your grief and your loss. And, honestly, don't be afraid, embarrassed, shy, or feel silly about going to your doctor and talking to them about it. One of the ways that doctors can learn more about grief is if those of us as grievers share with them what we are going through. And I, my experience has been with a handful of different doctors I have seen and some psychologists. They're very curious to learn about what I have been experiencing. But I was terrified. Terrified to share my physical symptoms with doctors. I'm not exactly sure why I was really scared. But I was really scared to go to doctors and really be vulnerable. Maybe I thought they were gonna think I was nuts. I don't know. But they never did. And ultimately, when I tossed being you know, afraid, I got all the help and support I needed and wanted. Which was critical when I did end up on a disability in 2015 for nearly, well for over two years. And ultimately, it totally transformed my life. Which I also do work on and I'll share bits and pieces of that with you as time goes on.
Vonne Solis 19:39
The second point I want to make is that I'm really happy and grateful for any amount of research that tackles things to do with loss and grief. The fact that they are now in the medical and research world, talking about emotions linked to loss and grief and real physical symptoms of high blood pressure, potential cardiac events, I think this is great news. Because it will call potentially for more research. More collaboration between, as the researchers are calling for, cardiologists, and neuroscientists and maybe other medical professionals will jump in on this research as well. Psychiatrists, psychologists, so that we can have a complete package one day of what we struggle with and what we go through after suffering sudden and traumatic and taboo type losses. Suicide and child loss, certainly both of them being in that category. Where the cultural silence around that forces us to isolate or at most, we're very, very careful about who we make ourselves vulnerable to in terms of what we are experiencing, feeling and thinking.
Vonne Solis 21:03
So any amount of research brings attention to the cause. And while it's not going to necessarily bring a cure, as I say, more tools in the toolbox come from helping us identify for ourselves, what we think we may have. Could have. Or really do have. So knowledge is power.
Vonne Solis 21:23
Anyway, I really want to thank you for watching or listening to this episode. I'll remind you that if you do want to join my community by email, please click on the link that says journal below. Until next time.