Broken heart syndrome - what is it and how do you get over it?

I doubt there are many people who, by the age of about 35, haven't had their hearts broken once or twice. A lost love is oh so painful, particularly when it comes suddenly or out of the blue.

Broken heart syndrome is so called because the syndrome - a set of symptoms - happens mainly after a sudden or severe shock. More women than men suffer from it (poor us!).

What can cause you to be so stricken that your heart quite literally aches with feelings of loss, rejection and/or pain?

Here are some examples:

  • you suddenly found evidence of your partner or spouse's infidelity
  • your partner told you, out of the blue, that he or she wants to end your relationship or is going to file for divorce
  • your partner has told you he or she doesn't love you any more and you feel a sudden and deep sense of rejection
  • your partner admits to having an affair - either now or in the past
  • you've been betrayed - or 'stabbed in the chest' in any other way
  • your long-term partner or spouse has suddenly died

Just before we take a closer look at broken heart syndrome, this article is for people who are experiencing strong physical symptoms. If you're hurting emotionally rather than physically, my page on How to Get Over Someone might be better for you right now.

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome

Broken heart art

Chances are, you're suffering from what is also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, otherwise it's unlikely you would've landed on this page (unless you're looking on someone else's behalf of course).

The good news? The condition is temporary and it's unlikely that you're about to die. You probably aren't having a heart attack. You're most likely suffering from the consequences of an emotional 'blow to the head'.

However, you're still going to have to have it checked out pretty quickly! People have died from takotsubo cardiomyopathy (another word for the same condition). You may even have been suffering from a pre-existing heart disease, perhaps without even being aware of it.

Your doctor will first of all do a battery of tests - he or she will want to be sure that you're not suffering from a heart attack.

Your heart's electrical impulses will be recorded and monitored (EEG) and your blood will also be tested for anything that might point to a more severe heart disease.

Why is it a physical reaction?

When you've suddenly lost someone close to your heart, it can feel like part of you has died. No wonder than that your body responds with 'weakness'.

Here are the symptoms

  • severe pain in your chest - a physical translation of the emotional stab in the chest
  • heart pounding and/or irregular beating
  • feeling as if you can't get enough air when you breathe
  • and unsurprisingly: fear you're about to die

The utter unexpectedness and total stress of what you've heard, witnessed or what's suddenly happened has caused your body to be flooded with stress hormones (see the link further down).

And the result?

Your heartbeat is completely out of kilter - one part is weakened and swollen with blood which the rest of the heart can't efficiently pump away.

Gratitude is the door opening to the abundance in lifeBefore going to sleep, remind yourself of three good things that happened that day (however difficult that day was)

The emotional fall-out from a sudden loss

I so know how desperately your heart aches. Maybe you even feel like there's a deep, raw scream locked inside your chest.

Feelings and emotions

When you have a broken heart, it's normal to feel any (or all) of the following:

  • shock - it can't be true, you can barely speak, your mind is racing... it's as if you're living in a dream - surely you must be about to wake up. You may be feeling weak, faint, 'drunk', swamped and totally unable to cope
  • sadness or a deeper sorrow for the losses (there are often many)
  • confusion and simply not being able to comprehend what's happened
  • longing for things to go back to how they were before, for the person to love you again, for him or her to come back and for it all to have been a mistake or a bad dream
  • anger with the apparent injustice of it all, for what he or she did, for abandoning you, for being selfish
  • emptiness - not being able to feel anything at all; everything's blank - all you can do is stare into space, perhaps even wishing you could go to sleep and never wake up, or wake up having 'just' had a nightmare

Other symptoms

You may well be suffering any or all of the following too:

  • Insomnia - no wonder with all that's going on
  • Anxiety - ditto
  • A sense of panic
  • Fatigue - your whole body is fighting a battle at the moment and it's taking a huge amount of energy to heal itself
  • Lack of concentration - be extra careful with driving or operating any kind of machinery!
  • Memory loss - your hypocampus (a structure in the brain) is involved with your memory, and it's had a pretty hefty blow 
  • Excessive dreaming - your brain's way of processing things that you haven't been able to deal with during the day

I really need you to trust me now when I say - THIS TOO WILL PASS! I promise!

9 Tips to help mend your broken heart

I suspect you may have suffered from stress prior to the onset of the broken heart syndrome. You may or may not have been aware of how much you were already under pressure. Now the fuse has blown and the most important thing is to help you heal your broken heart.

I really want you to tackle the problem from every angle.

So here's your action plan:

  1. Get yourself to a doctor as soon as possible, as indeed you're a much greater risk of getting a heart attack or a stroke*)
  2. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat a dear friend
  3. Read my page on PTSD symptoms. This isn't because you're suffering from PTSD, but because the symptoms of your shock will probably mimic those of trauma. The linked pages on how to deal with trauma might be really helpful for you right now as well
  4. Read my page on stress reduction tips (see related articles) - they're unlikely to be what you expect, but they might just help you discover the key to a less stressful life!
  5. Speed up the healing process - get the hypnosis download Mend Your Broken Heart from this page
  6. Don't make any rash decisions! Your brain has temporarily lost its capacity for logical thinking, but I promise you, it'll come back
  7. Ask friends and/or family members to help you out with caring for your children
  8. Tell your children that you're having a bad time. Reassure them that you'll get better but that right now you need a little help with practical stuff (I understand you're rolling eyes if you have teenagers ;-)) Being able to help you will do their self-esteem the world of good. Be sure not to burden them with the details though, and allow them to continue to love the other parent as if nothing had happened
  9. Eliminate as much other stress as possible. I can promise you that you'll be able to reduce stresses you didn't even know existed

If you partner or spouse has died - help your children understand what's happened. You need to be very clear about what that means, particularly for the younger ones, so that they don't hold on to a doomed hope that he or she will magically reappear one day (more on this in a future article).

Folk wisdom to help you mend your broken heart

Did you know that in folk wisdom the heart is the seat of intuition, love creativity, wisdom and gratitude?

So, here are some more tips to help you:

  • If you can meditate - do it more, trust your intuition and focus on the wisdom you gain when you've managed to calm your mind. For most people this is not the time to start learning to meditate - but if it's helpful to you, then do it!
  • If you're creative - get cracking with a new project, or finish off an old one. You may or may not produce your best work, but that's neither here nor there at the moment. The process of creating something is deeply healing - it's an easy way to shift your focus onto something else and away from the problem(s)
  • If there are other people in your life whom you love (family, friends), spend extra time showing them how much you love them - giving and receiving attention is hugely beneficial to our well-being
  • If you've never spent the time deliberately counting your blessings - now is the time to start. Gratitude itself is enormously healing (well backed-up by research). I know you may find it hard to focus outwardly on what you can be thankful for right now, but give it a go and you may just surprise yourself (even if you're just grateful that you didn't spill your cup of tea or coffee at breakfast time today!)

Related pages

Children in the Middle
Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown
Free or Affordable Counselling
Stress Reduction Tips
PTSD Symptoms

Other helpful links - Is broken heart syndrome real?


*)PubMed - Risk of acute myocardial infarction after the death of a significant person in one's life: the Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study.

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Elly Prior

It's me - Elly Prior, I'm the Founder and Author of this site. I'm a 'real' person! I'm hoping to make a positive difference, small or large, to every person who visits my site.

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Images courtesy of: Retta Stephenson, Symphony of Love