Can You Die of a Broken Heart?
SADLY, it’s an all too common occurrence: An apparently healthy elderly person who has just lost a mate in death collapses and dies within a few days or weeks. The cause of death? “A broken heart,” say friends.
This may be more than a figure of speech. Researchers have long known that unresolved stress floods the heart with chemicals that can throw it into an irregular beat or even convulsions. But just how this process starts in the brain has remained a mystery.
Stephen M. Oppenheimer, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University medical school in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A., believes he has identified a part of the brain that links the heart with the emotions. The insular cortex is a small part of the brain where the autonomic nervous system, which controls such functions as breathing and heartbeat, meets the limbic system, which deals with emotions, such as anger, fear, and pleasure. Dr. Oppenheimer found that stimulation of the insular cortex in rats resulted in heart muscle damage similar to that seen in humans with sudden cardiac fibrillation. Stimulation of the insular cortex in humans has also been shown to produce changes in heart rate and blood pressure. These findings suggest that it is indeed possible to die of a broken heart.
Some say that a broken heart was a factor in the death of Jesus Christ, of whom it was prophesied: “Reproach itself has broken my heart, and the wound is incurable.” (Psalm 69:20) Are these words to be understood literally? Perhaps so, for the hours preceding Jesus’ death were agonizing—not only physically but also emotionally. (Matthew 27:46; Luke 22:44; Hebrews 5:7) Furthermore, a broken heart may explain why “blood and water” flowed from a spear wound inflicted on Jesus just after his death. A rupture of the heart or a major blood vessel could discharge blood either into the chest cavity or into the pericardium—a fluid-containing membrane that loosely encases the heart. In either location a puncture could cause the flow of what would appear to be “blood and water.”—John 19:34.
Of course, other factors were undoubtedly involved in Jesus’ relatively swift death, including the manner of his impalement and the abuse he endured prior to it. How grateful we are that under these intense circumstances, Jesus maintained his loyalty! As a result, he was highly exalted by his Father, Jehovah. (Philippians 2:8-11) Moreover, he made it possible for us to live forever on a paradise earth.—John 17:3; Revelation 21:3, 4.