You've seen the movies, read the books, and heard the stories of love and loss of people not being able to go on without their significant others. But is there really such a thing as a broken heart? A growing body of research suggests that the emotional trauma of losing someone you love may lay the groundwork for a genuine medical condition.

Broken Heart Syndrome

A 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center supports the theory of broken heart syndrome. In emotionally stressful situations, such as a loved one's unexpected death, people without previous health or heart problems may experience symptoms of heart failure. These symptoms can be similar to those of a typical heart attack, including chest pain, fluid in the lungs, shortness of breath, and heart failure.

So, what makes broken heart syndrome different from a standard heart attack? Generally, it is believed that broken heart syndrome is, at least in part, emotionally fueled and renders more reversible damage compared with the kind of damage suffered after a true heart attack, which can be permanent. Doctors at Johns Hopkins found that the recovery for a patient with stress cardiomyopathy, as it is known medically, is typically faster than the recovery for a heart attack.

Protecting Yourself

Since a broken heart indicates extreme emotional stress, there are ways to protect yourself. Eating well, exercising daily, and not smoking can help reduce your risk. In addition, be sure to nurture other connections and relationships in your life, which helps to counteract loneliness. Experts also stress that you shouldn't stop doing the things you enjoy even if you used to do them with your loved one. Continue to volunteer, visit local galleries or theaters, take a class, or enjoy any other activities that will help distract you from your grief.

Ultimately, there is no way to determine who will suffer temporary heart damage from a stressful event, but routine stress management can help minimize the effects. Remember, grief is a normal emotion. It's when that grief becomes overwhelming that you may suffer from a broken heart. If you feel you or someone close to you is suffering from the loss of a loved one, speak with your doctor. He or she may be able to recommend a counselor or support group to help you cope.