Can you die of a broken heart?

As heart and lung surgeon Dr Nikki Stamp explains in her new book, heartbreak can lead to a whole host of physical and emotional symptoms.

When actress Debbie Reynolds died a day after her beloved daughter Carrie Fisher, the world diagnosed it as ‘heartbreak’.

We’ve all had those moments in life when someone you love dies or you break up with a spouse or partner and it feels like your whole world has been ripped out from under you. You can’t eat, can’t sleep and your mind won’t stop racing. You are literally reeling in pain.

As heart and lung surgeon Dr Nikki Stamp explains in her new book Can you die of a broken heart?, when we’re exposed to heart break, a whole host of damaging hormones are released into our bodies placing us under incredible stress.

“While it’s very uncommon that people die of shock or bereavement caused by heart failure, it does happen,” she says. “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.”

“So while having a broken heart will not always kill you, it’s certainly not good for your physical wellbeing.”

Dr Stamp, who is an ambassador for the #ILookLikeASurgeon campaign highlighting women and diversity in surgery, says the tough thing about life is that we truly can’t avoid the rough times.

“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,” she says.

And women she says are literally more prone to having their hearts broken than men. “If we look at men and women after divorce, women’s health takes more of a hit; men remarry more often and sooner, which may help their emotional and physical health,” she reveals.

“For women who are divorced, the risk of a heart attack is between 1.29 to 1.39 times higher than for women who are continuously married.”

So how can we protect our hearts?

“Well, I suppose you could avoid love altogether, but where is the fun in that”, Dr Stamp says. “We know being married or in a relationship is protective, and not just for health.

“It seems most of us are more than happy to risk it for the glorious rewards. While rough times can be guaranteed, building a resilient body and mind is like taking out an insurance policy for your wellbeing.”

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Jo, Ed, and the team.