How Heartbreak Causes Cardiovascular Disease

John Gray

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States (and soon the world). Women are also more likely than men to have other conditions associated with heart disease, like diabetes, obesity and depression.

Most times, cardiovascular disease is self-inflicted through poor diet, high stress and, I would argue, the lack of loving, nurturing relationships. In this video, I explain how a loss of a partner, a bad breakup or an all-around "heartbreak" plays a role in cardiovascular heath.

Cardiovascular disease is also called heart disease because it include heart attacks, strokes, and a number of other conditions affecting the structure and function of the heart. Most associate a poor diet, lack of exercise and stressful situations to heart disease, but the emotional health of a person should also be considered.

For years, doctors thought the connection between mental health and heart health was strictly behavioral: a person who was depressed found relief from smoking, drinking or eating fatty foods and therefore developed heart disease. However research has shown that people who feel lonely, depressed, and isolated are many times more likely to get sick and die prematurely from heart problems than those who have a sense of connection, community and love. 

In fact, researchers at John Hopkins University discovered that sudden emotional stress could result in severe weakness in the heart muscle. Their study revealed that many people 
are misdiagnosed with a massive heart attack when, they have actually had a surge in stress hormones that temporarily “stunned” the heart. Researchers labeled it “broken heart syndrome" and it was more common in women.   

Broken heart syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, can strike even if you’re healthy. It is the heart's reaction to a surge of stress hormones — that can be caused by an emotionally stressful event. It could be the death of a loved one or even a divorce, breakup or physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection. 

In broken heart syndrome, a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the rest of your heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions. Researchers are just starting to learn the causes, and how to diagnose and treat it. 

The symptoms are similar to a heart attack — chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, a sense of weakness. Broken heart syndrome can lead to severe heart muscle failure but, most times, it is treatable and people recover within a couple days or weeks.

It makes sense a broken heart would lead to, well, uh, a broken heart but research also shows the biological and chemical factors that trigger mental health issues could increase a person's risk for heart disease.

The relationship between depression and heart disease is a two-way street. Studies have shown that people who are depressed are about twice as likely to develop heart disease, and that people who already have heart disease are three times as likely to be depressed as other people. Don't ignore the symptoms of depression. Feelings of sadness or emptiness, loss of interest in ordinary or pleasurable activities, reduced energy, and eating and sleep disorders are just a few of depression's many warning signs, especially if they persist for more than two weeks. Depression can be helped through therapy and natural supplements to make you feel better and decrease your risk of heart attack risk. 


Anxiety can often cause panic attacks, which mimic heart attacks. However, research also shows that generalized anxiety disorder, characterized by constant anxiety even about mundane matters, appears to increase the risk of heart attacks. When someone is anxious, they experience an increased heart rate and blood pressure which puts extra strain on their heart.

Another extremely common symptom related to anxiety, particularly in women, is the sensation that the heart is racing or beating too fast. As with depression, therapy and natural supplements can help treat anxiety. Anxiety often stems from stress, so reducing stress can help to reduce the techniques that aim to quell the stress response can also be effective for easing anxiety.

Your body reacts to life-threatening stress with a “fight-or-flight” response. The brain triggers a cascade of chemicals and hormones that speed the heart rate, quicken breathing, increase blood pressure, activate your blood-clotting system and boost the amount of energy (sugar) supplied to muscles. All of these changes enable your body to respond to an impending threat.

Unfortunately, the body does a poor job of discriminating between grave, imminent dangers and less momentous, ongoing sources of stress.

Research does not firmly link stress and heart disease, but there’s a growing belief that it’s an additional risk factor. In 2004, The Lancet published a study that involved over 24,000 participants from 52 countries. Roughly 11,000 patients who had just had a first heart attack were asked about various forms of stress they had experienced in the preceding 12 months. Members of a control group, who were matched to the patients for age and gender but had no history of heart disease, underwent similar assessments.

The results showed that increased stress levels were a greater risk for heart attack than hypertension, obesity and even diabetes. The types of stress a person experiences may also be a factor.

Work Stress: Harvard researchers found that women with stressful jobs had a 40% increased risk of heart disease compared with their less-stressed colleagues. Even further, research has shown that women who worked overtime hours regularly (ten to eleven hours each day) had a 70% higher risk of heart disease compared with those who worked normal working hours (seven to eight hours per day).  

Money Stress: Duke researchers revealed that h
eart attacks rose when the stock market crashed. They reviewed medical records for 11,590 people who had undergone testing for heart disease during a three-year period, and then compared monthly heart attack rates with stock market levels. Heart attacks increased steadily from September 2008 to March 2009, a bad time for the stock market.

Caregiver Stress: Women who cared for a disabled spouse for at least nine hours a week were significantly more at risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease compared with women who had no care-giving duties, according to findings from the Nurses’ Health Study. This large study followed more than 54,000 female nurses over a four-year period.

read more blog posts from John Gray

John Gray Mars Venus Soul Mate Relationship Weekend Seminar