‘Dying of a broken heart’ is no longer just a saying, for boffins in the UK have charted how intense stress caused by grief can lead to a person’s demise.
Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London and the Brighton & Sussex Medical School (BSMS) conducted their study on 10 patients with specific heart conditions.
By measuring electrical changes at the surface of the skull, the researchers found that stress can trigger harmful rhythms in "higher level" regions of the brain responsible for learning, memory and emotion that can in turn, destabilise the cardiac muscle of people suffering from heart disease.
The scientists noted that activity in these regions, such as the cortex, not only reflected the responses of the heart to stress, but also became involved in a "vicious circle" often worsening the situation by making the heart muscle less stable, said Dr Marcus Gray, from BSMS.
"We know that stress can increase the risk of sudden death through cardiac arrest and that the brain areas responsible for regulating heart function can be unbalanced by stress," the Telegraph quoted him, as saying.
"Our research suggests that the cerebral cortex may play a significant role in these events by becoming involved in a vicious circle," he added.
The study is published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.