You’ve probably heard of people dying of heartbreak, oftentimes due to the death of a partner or a horrible break up. A bittersweet story of an old woman dying in her sleep hours after her husband passed away is probably one of the most recent stories about it to have graced your news feeds. And although it’s a poetic ending to a solid relationship, it also highlights the implications of what severe emotional trauma can do to your heart.
According to the American Heart Association, death due to heartbreak is very real. “Broken heart syndrome” is the common term for stress-induced cardiomyopathy, wherein “a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well.” This can lead to severe heart failure.
In a feature on TIME, researchers from Denmark reveal that sudden traumatic separation from one’s partner increases the risk for this condition. “This study adds evidence to the growing knowledge that the mind-heart link is a powerful association and further examination is warranted,” says study author Simon Graff of the Department of Public Health at Aarhus University. “We hope to help make a shift in society’s mindset—that a time of grief is not only a mental state, but maybe also physical.
Symptoms of broken heart syndrome include chest pains, shortness of breath, misbeats, and cardiogenic shock, wherein the heart is too weak to pump the amount of blood that the body needs. Experts believe that the best way to avoid broken heart syndrome is to take control of the situation.
“We can’t stop stressful situations from coming up in our lives, but there may be ways to change the way stress affects our bodies,” says Dr. Harmony Reynolds of the NYU Langone Medical Center. In the end, it’s all about acceptance and letting go.