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Doctors Identify "Broken Heart Syndrome"

In many fictional tales, characters die after suffering a devastating loss. The Bible often refers to the anguish of the "broken-hearted." But has anyone really died or suffered physical harm from a "broken heart"?

Surprisingly, medical researchers at Johns Hopkins University have now identified a medical condition called stress cardiomyopathy, also called "broken heart syndrome." This new research shows that tragic or shocking life events—including loss of a loved one, a car accident, armed robbery, a fierce argument—can cause a sudden surge in adrenaline that weakens heart muscles. According to the lead author of the John Hopkins study, "It looked like a heart attack in the sense that the EKGs were abnormal, the blood work was abnormal, but when you went to the [lab], the arteries had no blockages." The patients had very few or none of the typical risk factors for heart disease. But the emotional pain they experienced had literally stunned their heart, making it feel like they were having classic heart attack symptoms, including chest pain, fluid in the lungs, and shortness of breath.

In some cases, broken heart syndrome can be as dangerous as a real heart attack, although after treatment, most patients quickly recover. But in all cases, broken heart syndrome hurts just as much as a real heart attack. Research has also shown that the same regions of the brain that signal physical pain are also activated when we feel emotional pain, such as grief or rejection.

So when the Bible talks about the anguish of the broken-hearted, it's describing real hurt and real pain. As one of the doctors said about patients with this condition, "We'll definitely be paying more attention now than before to patients who are grieving."

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