Are You At Risk for Broken Heart Syndrome?

10 Easy Ways to Heal After Heartbreak

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Heart Health

We’ve all heard the phrase “she died of a broken heart.” And, I’m sure many of you have experienced the pain of heartbreak. Whether it’s due to the end of a romantic relationship, divorce, death, or other painful circumstances, it can feel like your heart is literally broken.

While it’s something that everyone goes through at some point in their lives, science shows that heartbreak can actually be pretty bad for your health – your heart in particular. In extreme cases, heartbreak has even been reported to cause stroke or heart attack.

There is a strong connection between depression and heart disease. A broken heart can lead to cardiac consequences as well. Dr. Steven Sinatra says that this is because the loss of a vital connection can lead to the literal breakdown of the functions of the heart.

The American Heart Association has a term for the physical effects of heartbreak.  It’s called Broken Heart Syndrome or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.  It’s named after an octopus trap, and it occurs almost exclusively in women! 

That’s not all. Broken Heart Syndrome can strike even if you’re healthy.

How To Recognize The Symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome

Broken Heart Syndrome can feel much like a heart attack and may even be misdiagnosed as such because the symptoms and test results are usually similar. For example, test results for someone who has Broken Heart Syndrome may show significant changes in rhythm and blood substances.  This is also true for someone who is having a heart attack.  Also, with Broken Heart Syndrome, a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the rest of your heart functions normally, or may even have more forceful contractions.

The most common symptom associated with Broken Heart Syndrome is angina — or chest pain.  You may also experience shortness of breath and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). You can experience any or all of these symptoms even if you have no history of heart disease.  In addition, even though there may not be anything wrong with your heart, Broken Heart Syndrome can lead to severe, short-term heart muscle failure.

The good news is that Broken Heart Syndrome is usually treatable. Most people who experience it make a full recovery within weeks, and they’re at low risk for it happening again.  Although in rare cases, a person can experience cardiogenic shock due to a weakened heart, which can be fatal. This is the most common cause of death due to heart attack.

More Physical Effects of Heartbreak

Heartbreak is inevitable if you are going to live a connected life.  Some other physical effects of heartbreak include:

  1. Experience of physical pain. When you experience heartbreak, your brain actually thinks you have been physically hurt. That’s because physical and emotional pain register and are processed in the same regions in the brain. That’s why heartbreak can feel all-consuming. Your brain is telling you the pain is real! This is similar to withdrawal from drugs. Luckily, the physical symptoms will subside with time.
  2. Appetite changes, weight gain, weight loss. Depending on how you cope with extreme sadness, you may find yourself eating more – or not at all. For some, food can be a distraction and a comfort, for others it’s something that seems repulsive.
  3. High cortisol. When you are heartbroken, your brain perceives stress and pumps your body full of cortisol and epinephrine. You may become tense, have headaches, or feel pressure in your chest – all due to stress hormones!
  4. Feeling sad, depressed or anxious. Heartbreak (and other traumatic experiences) can cause clinical depression. In fact, research shows that losses impacting self-esteem — such as a break-up — are twice as likely to trigger depression versus ones that involve loss alone, such as death. Part of this stems from the fact that relationships change the way we think about ourselves. Heartbreak due to a romantic break-up or divorce can leave you questioning your identity.

 10 Tips for Overcoming Heartbreak

Allowing yourself to mourn the loss of a relationship can be tricky.  Here are some things that can help you break through the heartbreak and stay healthy.

  1. Don’t be alone. Heartbreak can make us want to crawl into a shell – or into bed with a pint of ice cream. While it’s important to allow yourself time and space to experience your feelings fully, becoming a hermit is only going to prolong your heartbreak and possibly send you into full-blown depression. Going out with friends and doing activities you love – even if you are not in the mood – is the best way to get your dopamine levels up and start experiencing joy again. And, a little ice cream — with friends — can be good for the soul.
  2. Move your body. Staying active, even when you don’t want to, increases levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine (the exact neurotransmitters antidepressants are aimed at) as well as the feel-good hormones, endorphins. When you exercise you feel better. It’s a simple way to help yourself.  You can always call a friend to get moving with you, even if it’s just for a walk.
  3. Maintain proper eating habits. You may crave sugar — or not feel hungry at all for days. But, when you are under stress due to heartbreak it’s even more important to maintain a healthy diet that minimizes simple carbohydrates (sugar and starch) and contains plenty of the right kind of fats (such as omega-3 fats.) Reach for fruits and vegetables that don’t take long to prepare. If you are up for cooking, have some cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Or, make a salad full of green leafy vegetables and citrus fruit. Be sure to avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  4. Break off contact with the person who hurt you. The only true remedy for heartbreak is time. Trying to hang onto a relationship after it ends just prolongs the pain. Unless there are children involved, it’s best to cut off all contact with the person. This includes on social media!
  5. Stay away from prescription drugs for depression. Often the very prescription drugs used to treat anxiety and depression are the ones that exacerbate these conditions. Even over the counter medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, can contribute to depression.
  6. Take time out for you.Some alone time is healing. Take time to meditate, soak in an Epsom salt bath, read, watch a movie, or listen to uplifting music. Give yourself permission to cry and feel whatever emotions you have been holding on to.  You can do this for 10-30 minutes each day as needed.
  7. Laughter really is the best medicine. And, you may be surprised how close to the surface it is for you. Watch a funny movie, call a friend with a good sense of humor, or watch funny videos on YouTube.         
  8. Practice compassion. It’s easy to be compassionate when we are feeling good.  It’s often when we are down that we have trouble. Start by accepting yourself right now and make yourself your number one priority.
  9. Follow up with your health care practitioner. If your doctor thinks you have Broken Heart Syndrome, you may need follow up tests to be sure your heart is functioning normally. Talk with your doctor about what’s right for you.
  10. Practice Divine Love. Divine love is accessible to everyone and it is the most powerful form of healing. People often have profound experiences of emotional release and also physical healing. To learn more, click here. 

Check out these articles for more information on the symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome:

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/broken-heart-syndrome/signs-and-symptoms

http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/takotsubo-cardiomyopathy-broken-heart-syndrome

Have you ever felt the physical effects of heartbreak?

Last Updated: July 12, 2016

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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  1. steve
    5 months ago

    my lovely wife wants to brake up after 23 year I am not vilont don’t do drugs or drink she says she don’t want to be married any she said I am a great guy and don’t deserve this but the universe is guiding her to do this since this has started I have been to hospital with a suspected hart attack and still get chest pains 2 attempted suicides I am deverstated regareds steve ps sorry about the spelling

  2. Tammy Rogers
    7 months ago

    What do you do when your children leave you never talk to you. One child a daughter she gets upset at you and then never calls you. She will not let you see your grandchildren and will not even except your text messages. i have always been a good mother she has always had her father in her life. She was raised with a good up bringing but one day gets upset never really tells you why and thats it.I also have a son that is in my life but all he ever does is take from you. He lives with you along with his wife and three girls but expects you to take care of him and his wife and children. You ask them to leave and they treat you as if you our the bad person. My heart hurts so bad my chest is heavy I feel alone even though my husband is with me and he is there father. I dont want to eat i dont want to do anything I just want to cry and i tell myself i dont wont to go on. I really am hurt because i feel like our daughter left us and dosent care and that my son only cres if there is something we can do for him. My heart os soo very very broken if you dont have your childrens love what do you have. I pray everyday that our daughter will come back to us we were so very close before I feel like her and my grandchildren have died I grieve everyday. I am so lost without her and i want my son to grow up and tell us he loves us but to show us somehow he loves us. Very sad and broken in Arkansas.

    1. Cory
      2 months ago

      I hear you. I understand your pain. My daughters have done the same thing. I live in grief and it doesn’t get any better. I beat cancer a few years ago and ask God why? What was the purpose of overcoming cancer only to have my daughter’s walk out of my life.
      My purpose and identity was mom and grandma. I do understand your hurt.
      All I can say is God and I talk everyday. It’s all that gets me through. You aren’t alone.

  3. Hadi
    8 months ago

    I just went through the worst breakup I ever thought possible. I still cannot truly believe that it happened, and I’m having trouble processing it. We were together for 2 1/2 years and he was there for me through everything. My friends and family are trying to help, and I even have an appointment with a therapist, but it’s not getting any better. I have tried spending time with friends and family, and with my dog. I tried doing things I used to enjoy, such as listening to music, art, adult coloring books, reading, everything I could think of, but it doesn’t work. I think I have broken heart syndrome for these reasons: I have lost almost 10 pounds already, sometimes when I look at food or think about food I want to throw up, and other times it provides a nice distraction, I have a squeezing feeling in my chest and throat that makes it difficult to breathe. My stomach hurts like hell, and sometimes I just want to be alone and curl up into a ball and cry, other times I panic when I’m not with someone close to me, as I’m terrified of being lonely. I’m sleeping so much that im going to bed at 5 pm to make up for having to get up early for school. The four worst things that scare me are that I started hurting myself without knowing it – I would look down and find long scratches on my arms and legs. I started hurting other people – I would snap easily and yell, coming close to even physically hurting an object around me, I’m scared I might actually hurt someone. Second is the panic attacks – the last one I had was last night. Third is the voice in my head – it started a week ago, only one voice, and its kind but I’m uncomfortable and I think I’m just imagining it. Finally, and the scariest to me, is the pain in my heart. It’s happened three times now, sharp pains shooting through my heart and chest, followed by an ache that lasts a few minutes. I’m scared to tell my friends or family, I don’t want them to think I’m trying to get attention, or think I’m crazy. Before this, I didn’t even know that broken heart syndrome existed, I thought that the squeezing I felt in my chest whenever my ex and I had an arguement, even after we made up, was normal.

  4. Chrystal
    10 months ago

    I got with my first husband when i was very young, i had 4 children by 19. He was very abusive. I am bipolar, mostly depressed. I was in recovery from drug addiction when i finally left. I watched the movie stop loss on a date with him during this time and i kept just saying i dont want to be stop lossed. I dont want to be sent back to that war. But let me tell you when i left, my heart hurt so bad. I thought i was going to die. My heart felt hot. I couldnt go on, ok so i have been married again since then and thats done and gone. But im so afraid tk feel that pain again, i would rather try to commit suicide then to ever feel that pain again. I think my relationship right now is coming to an end and im so scared.

  5. Gail Wright
    2 years ago

    I wanted to comment on “”broken heart syndrome” being real. I lost my job that I had been at for 28 years. I loved that job more than life itself. It meant more to me than anything. I had been out of work for 11 weeks and 6 days at mayo clinic. I was very, very sick. I went back after 11 weeks and 6 days because in Tennessee under the family medical act you must be back to work before 12 weeks or they can legally terminate you without cause. I was still very sick and still had to get up four hours earlier than usual because I had to run 4 bottles of i.v. fluids into my body first thing in the morning. The first day I went back they terminated me because they said that they weren’t going to need me anymore. How common can you be? It broke my heart literally. I stayed home, didn’t talk to anyone and stayed away from all friends. I became a hermit and withdrew from life completely. That has been 14 years ago and I still live that way. I rarely can find a reason to even get up in the morning. Will it ever end? I wonder.

  6. JoAnn Hise Melton
    2 years ago

    Very good info I’ve stumbled upon this day following a PBS special you appeared on today. I have recovered from pancreatic cancer, a heart attack, dialysis and assorted hangnails and due to Louise Hay, I now it was all stress induced. Good to read this page to verify what few believe, but I don’t try to convince many others. Your talk today emphasized repetition of movement and I will incorporate that into my day as I spend too much time online where I learn so much.

    Thank you for your very informative talk today on “Goddesses” which amuses me because when I fill in forms I often write my occupation is Goddess which gets me some odd looks from stodgy dentists or others. Blessings and Sunshine!

  7. Connie
    2 years ago

    What would you say to a 74-old who has, after 45 years into a second marriage, finally found the person she wants to grow old with…unthinkable, and unexpected, but assured this is the right move. The obvious concerns are for the current husband and the son from the first marriage. I’ve tried to be authentic with my needs, but I feel I’m not being heard or even believed. (No surprise, as this is the MO from forever.) I’ve set boundaries, intentions, attempted to communicate…but I still feel I’m not being heard. Where do I stop nurturing and begin to live a life of joy?

  8. JoAnn Carpenter
    2 years ago

    I understand what you are saying but don’t know how to get through it! My 14 yr old grandson was murdered 10 months ago and am truly heartbroken! I now see that everything mentally and physically are real symptoms!

    1. Christiane L Northrup
      2 years ago

      I am so so very sorry. I cannot even imagine the grief and trauma of this. May I suggest that you read the book Life Between Heaven and Earth by George Anderson, a medium. He has worked to help people for many many years. Many who have lost loved ones in tragic ways. But then have found peace and hope through connecting with their loved ones through him. I also suggest a support group for those who have experienced the same kind of loss. It truly helps to be around those who are going through the same thing. My heart goes out to you.

  9. Carol
    2 years ago

    Heartbreak can also occur if there is a sudden unexpected death. My 27 yr old nephew who lost his mother my sister to cancer wen he was 11 lost his father to a heart attack and 6 weeks later drove to the hospital with rapid pulse and heart symptoms. they kept him in the ER for 3 days and observed him. He was to be released the next morning but unfortunately died of a heart attack!!! He was a good weight and a clean kid but they weren’t even interested in putting him in CCU!! 2 funerals in 6 weeks was devastating to us and his 18 yr old only sibling. Heartbreak is real.

  10. Monica
    2 years ago

    This is advise is spot on- except # 4 WHEN THERE ARE CHILDREN INVOLVED. I say, I could heal much easier from horrible deep, deep betrayal in our 10 year marriage if I didn’t have to see him every week and co-parent…No one ever talks about how to heal when there are children involved. Yes, therapy and counseling – what else? besides all the other steps, I take.. Exercise, eat well, education, Pema Chodron, CIM, Dr. Dyer, Dr. Virtue, Tapping, Eckart, Dr. Brown….I’m all in- and desperate to heal the pain of betrayal, let go, forgive, and begin again to feel love, worthy, and deserving…How? when? what else?
    And honestly, I somehow lack compassion for myself, still- thinking, hoping, praying and expecting to feel better.

    1. Christiane Northrup
      2 years ago

      Oh Monica– I SO HEAR you on this. Please please please check out http://www.melanietoniaevans.com and also http://www.womenwholovepsychopaths.com Melanie Tonia Evans runs an on line forum for recovery from narcissistic abuse. And Sandra Brown, MA has a blog talk radio show for women ( mostly) who have been in relationship with socipaths and narcissists. And also her book Women Who Love Psychopaths is filled with eye-opening information that will change your life. Narcissistic Abuse is epidemic on planet Earth. And the mental health and legal professions don’t do a very good job naming it and supporting those in relationship with the narcissist. Thank you for this comment. I am SO SORRY this is happening to you. But there is a lot of help available at this time in history.

      1. Mari
        2 years ago

        Dr. Northrop,
        I highly recommend this site for similar recover from Narcissism and codependency.
        Esteemology.com
        The blogger does a fantastic job of breakingdown what really happens in these relationships, how to heal, and ultimately thrive again.
        I read this bloggers site from earliest post forward.

        1. Christiane
          2 years ago

          Thanks Mari– this is going to help a lot of people.

    2. anna sandoval
      2 years ago

      Hi Monica,
      I know how difficult it is to go through everything, especially when there are children involved. I believe you are correct I have read a lot of information and the No contact thing appears to be most peoples saving grace. I like you have a child involved. I did no contact since April, My child and him pretty much communicated with each other via text.
      I saw my ex at the Mandated child custody hearing and I fell apart. All the wounds were still there. The thing about the wounds I think they are so deep on so many levels and often time they are triggered from past childhood neglect or abuse.
      I tried and am still trying all the things you have addressed. From the Zen books to all the information I can handle on having a Narcissist partner. For years I thought i was just dealing with an alcoholic, but now I realize that my partner has many Narcissistic tendencies.
      My partner was verbally abusive. I do not know if that is your history, but I have read a lot of information on why it is even harder to get over a relationship with a abusive possibly narc partner.
      Right now I am doing some research on trauma bonding. The main thing that makes sense to myself is the reason why it can take longer if you were in a abusive relationship, or with someone who put you down, or was not empathetic to your feelings is because we were still rejected by them. Even if we left them, it validates all those years when we let them make us not feel good enough, smart enough, or cute enough. The rejection even by these abusive partners who probably also destroyed are self worth through out the years is still rejection. To make it worse for us, we start questioning maybe , excuse me for this, but this terrible man might of been right about our self worth all along. They don’t want us maybe they were right all along.
      Do not force forgiveness until you are ready. Find ways to love yourself. Find what you are good at. Find a new passion. You deserved to be loved and respected for who you are not what someone wants you to be.
      I know it is really difficult, but we can’t let go until we are ready. We can’t let go until we acknowledge and recognize our pain. If we don’t feel the hurt, we will just bury it and it will eventually come back up through other bad choices or other triggers.
      You are doing everything right. Be gentle and kind with your self. I am sorry, but don’t rush the process.
      Just get up every day and show up the best you can and keep on breathing. Keep on doing all the good stuff. Check out issues of trauma bonding and somatic counseling, it might help you to learn to be more accepting of what you are going through. Kind regards and I wish you on your journey the best possible growth and happiness you can find.
      Kind regards and may you find peace.
      annie sandoval

  11. Jean S.
    2 years ago

    Thank you Dr. Northrup for once again bringing to light a subject that you rarely hear about. Too many people suffer in silence. Such a shame. A friend of mine lost her sister to cancer & 18 months later her father. She told her husband that she felt “heaviness” around her heart. She knew this was from the grief. He insisted that she have a stress test…..she did not want to do it. It came out just fine……the cost was $7,000.00 which their insurance company did not pay. I know this is a whole different subject but SO MANY people do not seek treatment because of the high deductibles now. I know two people that died because they could not afford to get medical care. They were both middle class people. Hope something changes. Thank you again for an excellent article!

  12. Laura
    2 years ago

    Thank you, Dr. Northrup for outlining how the physical experience of loss is very very real and should be treated as such.

    The only comment that concerns me is when you recommend people stay away from prescription drugs for anxiety and depression. There are times when those medications are crucial to recovery when the brain and body have become very out of balance and should not be avoided but used with care and the oversight of a physician. To make such a broad statement that make be taken as a reader as an absolute is irresponsible and could cause someone who is suffering from clinical depression to get off their meds when it is not time.

    I suggest the post be changed appropriately.

  13. Linda Haddow
    2 years ago

    Thank you Dr. Northrup for your generosity in sharing of your vast knowledge in the field of women’s health and wellness. I appreciate your information, wisdom, and positive findings for one’s own personal and unique journey, as well as women’s collective challenges while together, on this sometimes tumultuous road called “life”.

  14. L. Hill
    2 years ago

    Thank you so much for this information. Very helpful. My husband died almost five years ago, and I exercise to help me to cope with the stress of navigating life without him. Yesterday, I was diagnosed with a heart murmur, and my EKG showed there’s nothing wrong with my heart. I suspect this is the underlying cause.

  15. Michelle
    2 years ago

    My partner of 7 years left for a family reunion, as he does every year, but what he did not tell me is that he was not ever returning. He just up and left, no saying goodbye, just left. As a result, the heartbreak led to a broken heart valve. I could not walk for nearly 3 months. Abandonment is a criminal offense in many states and in most countries in the world because the harm it causes is close to attempted murder, and in some cases, people actually die as a result.

    1. Conie G.
      2 years ago

      Michelle… Thank you for sharing. I am going through something similar right now with my relationship of 2 1/2 years. He disappeared 1 month ago with no goodbye, etc.. I just stopped hearing from him!! We didn’t have a fight or anything. Our last conversation was wonderful! BUT… when I think back a few months, there were a few tiny red flags. The heartbreak of “not knowing” is hard to deal with (plus having some major abandonment issues from the past)!!! I was previously married and my husband passed in 2013 from cancer. I bring that up because, for me, this current heartbreak with being abandoned is far worse than dealing with my husband’s death. That is just my personal experience. I know many people have a completely different experience and I acknowledge that. Thank you, Dr. Northrup for addressing this issue and for all that you do!!

  16. Survivor
    2 years ago

    Sometimes there’s a real sense of relief, and maybe even horror, that you’ve dodged a bullet. What dies is your illusion that this relationship was going to be The One True Love. That’s probably all for the good.
    True love does exist, and you just moved closer to it by freeing yourself to receive it.

    1. Christiane Northrup
      2 years ago

      You are SO RIGHT on this. And I applaud you for realizing that you have dodged a bullet.

  17. Karen
    2 years ago

    Thank you Dr. Northrup for this vital information!

  18. Denice Loritsch
    2 years ago

    This is solid advice that helps.

  19. mary
    2 years ago

    yes this is true my marriage broke after 34 years he left me for another women, right next door. so had to deal with this for 4 years. Finally my heart had enough went into a irregular heartbeat. I actually had a kidney attack the blood clot went to my kidney.
    But yes I see this stress was too much on my poor heart. even tho I thought i was ok

  20. Peggy Davis
    2 years ago

    Dr. Northrup, I believe your blog does not address adequately the sudden loss of a loved one, especially the loss of a child. Eating ice cream to feel better would never address this kind of grief. Laughter was not a possibility. In my situation, I wanted to be with my child. I contemplated suicide for eleven months until I decided I wanted to live. With the help of medication, family, and a grief therapist for two years, I could begin to live again. I belong to a grief support group and these feelings of despair are common. I hope in the future you will specifically address this type of loss. It could be helpful to many.

    1. Christiane L Northrup
      2 years ago

      Thanks Peggy– Sudden loss of a loved one, especially a child, brings almost insurmountable grief and heartache. My sister was killed in a car accident at the age of 23. Another sister died at age 6 months. I watched my mother go through this. And at one point she said, ” I don’t think I’ll ever get over this, and that’s okay.” Support groups can be life savers. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  21. Donna Wiliams
    2 years ago

    Thank you Dr. Northrup four this validation of Heartbreak. I expierenced all the symptoms you listed but never was diagnosed,except by myself and divine intervention. I work with babyboomer and older adult women and now will be able to add Dr. Christine’s Noirthrups comments and facts to this huge problem that needs to be talked about and explored. Thank you for your wisdom and inspiration!!!
    Donna Williams

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