A British cardiologist named Dr. Alexander Lyon is freaking everyone out this Anna Howard Shaw Day by suggesting that "death by heartbreak" is way more prevalent than previously believed.
Broken heart syndrome —in less purple prose, "stress cardiomyopathy"— is a condition caused by a huge surge of adrenaline that paralyzes the bottom half of the heart's main pumping chamber. (Standard heart attacks, by contrast, are caused by a blockage to a coronary artery.) According to this piece published in The Guardian, about 6,000 of the UK's yearly heart attack diagnoses can be attributed to the syndrome.
Dr. Lyon believes the actual numbers could be much higher.
Lyon suggests that rather more people may be dying suddenly of the condition before arriving at hospital, without an accurate diagnosis ever being made either pre- or post-mortem. Dying of a "broken heart", therefore, may be more common than imagined.
It takes a pretty big stressor to lead to this type of heart failure; overwhelming fear or extreme pain are likely culprits, but so, too, is the shock of unexpected happiness caused by an event like winning the lottery or seeing that Drumstick ice cream cones are buy-one-get-one.
An incredible 90% of diagnosed broken heart syndrome cases occur in post-menopausal women, but the survival rates for anyone discharged from hospital having suffered the condition are very high. Dr. Lyon cautions against interpreting the numbers to mean that women are more susceptible to the syndrome than men.
Dudes, he speculates, might simply be dying on their way to the hospital.
"Our current hypothesis is that men drop down dead if they have a big stress, whereas women recover. There is one guaranteed, huge, stress in everyone's life; their birth. But for many women there is another stress, childbirth, which may happen multiple times. It would be odd if these repeated stresses gave rise to a life-threatening heart condition, so we think women have a protective factor, which, after menopause, may drop off."
Just in case you weren't already bummed out, The Guardian wraps things up by citing another bonkers statistic:
A recent study shows that the risk of dying suddenly from a cardiac arrest is 16 times higher the day after losing a spouse.
So, if you want to live forever, your best bet is to harden your heart against all love and kindness and never let yourself get close to anyone.