What happens when your heart breaks

The pain of losing a loved one can be intensely real. It’s a feeling beyond all emotion, and as theatrical as it might sound, the wearying reality we must all experience at some time in our lives can actually break our heart.

A broken heart is the result of losing a loved one, a partner, a friend and even a pet. It also occurs when we suffer disappointment, are rejected or are isolated from broader society. A real-life broken heart can have serious consequences with links to depression, mental health and heart disease.

Our journey through grief follows a path that eventually allows us to find a way of living without our loved one. Swiss psychiatrist Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first discussed five stages of grief in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.

Kübler-Ross talks about denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as those five stages, however, she admitted that processing grief and loss is far more complicated. We may feel like there is no end to the intense feelings we are experiencing.

It’s important to understand that no two people grieve the same way, even those of the same family.

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Your heart can literally break

There is also a physical side to grief and loss, and scientists have revealed that people who become bereaved are more than 40 per cent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than those who are not.

Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heartbeat. Those who suffer this condition are five times more likely to experience a stroke and two times more at risk of death.

What the study did was compare almost 89,000 people with atrial fibrillation with the medical records of 886,000 health people over a 10-year period and found the stress of losing a loved one increased the risk of developing the condition.

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of a broken heart is one way of ensuring we can get treatment for ourselves or those suffering around us. Common symptoms are chest pains and shortness of breath, which is why broken heart syndrome is often mistaken for a heart attack.

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Unlike a heart attack, blood tests won’t show signs of heart damage if it is a broken heart; tests won’t show signs of coronary artery blockage, but they will show ballooning and unusual movement of the left ventricle; the results of an EKG test in someone with broken heart syndrome won’t look like the tests results of someone who has suffered a heart attack; and unlike the time required to recover from a heart attack, we should recover quite quickly from the physical effects of broken heart syndrome.

How can you mend a broken heart

The Bee Gees might have been singing about their reunion back in the day, but they were on to something very serious. A broken heart can be mended, it just takes patience.

When we have suffered loss, it’s important we give ourselves time. Time to settle, time to talk and time to reflect. Keeping out mind busy with hobbies and new activities will allow us to move through the hard times.

We need to be kind to ourselves.

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