SALT LAKE CITY — The emotional trauma of losing a loved one can put stress on the heart and in rare cases cause a heart attack.
A 2005 John Hopkins study suggests cardiomyopathy — or broken heart syndrome — tends to affect more women than men. Cardiomyopathy is a term assigned to a diverse group of heart diseases.
While some forms of cardiomyopathy affect every age group, the study found women around 63 years old who had experienced emotional trauma were more susceptible to developing the disease.
Heather Severn, a therapist with Skylight Counseling, said sometimes when people don't properly process emotions, it doesn't affect just the heart.
"You're whole body is affected by it," she said. "It's important to be able to acknowledge what's going on because it not only affects your mental health but your physical health as well."
Some people with cardiomyopathy may show no symptoms, while others develop symptoms right away. In the case of cardiomyopathy following loss, Severn said it's important to pay attention to what the body is communicating through physical pain.
"People get chest pain a lot," she said. "A lot of times they'll have headaches, sometimes they'll get migraines. Eighty to 90 percent of physical symptoms can have psychological roots."
While the healing process takes time after the loss of a loved one, Severn said people should seek help if they are unable to cope with the loss after three to six months.
For more information on cardiomyopathy, visit cardiomyopathy.org.