Thursday 17 January 2019

Can you die of a broken heart? Heart surgeon on how a break-up can devastate your health

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Stock photo
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

An Australian heart and lung surgeon has revealed the devastating effects heartbreak can have on the human body.

Dr Nikki Stamp, who herself was left heartbroken when her marriage to her “best friend” failed, has researched the physical symptoms of having your heart broken.

She says takotsubo cardiomyopathy – commonly known as broken heart syndrome – is rare but real, and the doctor says she has seen a few cases herself.

“From the direct toxic effects of adrenaline in an acutely stressful situation, to the physical symptoms of having your heart broken, the mind and heart are truly connected,' Dr Stamp writes in her book “Can you Die of a Broken heart?”

"While your body is trying to be helpful by setting off a cascade of hormones and nervous system responses to be ready to fight for your survival, these effects can actually hurt your heart when they hang around for too long," Dr Stamp said.

Dr Stamp points to research that says divorce puts women under significantly more physiological strain than men.

'Women are generally more emotionally and financially hurt in a marriage breakdown, which adds a whole bunch of pain to an already rubbish situation.'

Dr Stamp explained that the risks posed by divorce to a woman's health is similar to that of high blood pressure or smoking.

She said women who are divorced have a risk of heart attack that is between 1.29 to 1.39 times higher than women who are always married.

"For men, the figures are similar, with the risk of heart attack for divorcees 1.38 times greater than for their married counterparts," Dr Stamp writes.

In her own experience, when her marriage broke down, she said that because her heart was affected, she wasn't looking after herself and it had an adverse effect on her whole body.

Her sleep and appetite suffered, such that she became "thin and gaunt", she admits, and she was undernourished and constantly running on adrenaline.

"My clothes hung off me and my hair was lank. My body was undernourished and running on adrenaline. My heart hurt so badly that it was destroying the rest of me in the process," she said.

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