Can you die of a broken heart?

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1. What becomes of the broken hearted?

Anyone who’s been heartbroken understands it can hurt like crazy, and I’m someone who knows all about it.

Research has shown that people who suffer the pain of losing a loved one can experience similar physical pain as someone touching a hot probe!

As a scientist I want to know what heartbreak actually looks like in my body. I'd also like to understand why it feels like real physical pain and if people can really die from a broken heart.

2. INTERACTIVE: Broken heart vs heart attack

Click on the hand icon, then drag the slider to see what happens to a heart that's been 'broken' shown in red. Compare it to a heart attack shown in blue. Although initial symptoms can be similar, they are actually very different conditions.

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Two damaged hearts. The red illustration depicts the swelling which occurs from broken heart syndrome – also known as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy. The blue heart shows shrinking and dead tissue, depicted in black, which occurs after a heart attack. Symptoms for both can include chest pain and breathlessness. Broken heart syndrome occurs suddenly and is usually triggered by extreme emotional distress or a physical trauma, whereas a heart attack is generally caused from blocked arteries. Both are potentially fatal. Unlike a heart attack, there is currently no known treatment for broken heart syndrome, but the condition tends to improve over time.

3. Addicted to love

You've found a new lover who has set your pulse racing. It’s a feeling so great that when you’re apart you feel a bit down and there’s an ache in your heart.

Been there? Well the reality is you might have an addiction. Researchers have looked at what goes on in the brain, and for lovers and addicts it’s exactly the same.

Those who are newly in love experience joy in their minds from a dopamine flood. And it’s this same pattern that goes on in the brain as that which occurs when you’re hooked on cocaine.

So in the first throes of passion you’re literally addicted to love, and that's probably why those feelings all hurt so much.

4. WATCH: Heartache and pain

You’ve lost the love of your life and the pain tears you apart. You’re curled up, you’re crying and you can't make sense of it all. Greg Foot and Dr Hannah Fry investigate the truth about death from a broken heart.

Greg Foot and Dr Hannah Fry: BBC Future – Brit Lab

5. Dying for love?

Click to read about those we know died of natural causes shortly after their partners – or was it a broken heart?

Young Tom Morris

The legendary golf champion whose wife died during childbirth.

Husband of

Margaret Drinnen

Missing links

When issues arose with his wife’s labour in 1875, Morris rushed from a match only to find both she and child had died. He died a few weeks later aged just 24.

Johnny Cash

The rocker who replaced a drug addiction for a dependence on love.

Husband of

June Carter

Man in black

At his final gig an emotional Cash paid tribute to his late wife, June, who died in May 2003 aged 73. He died a few months later, aged 71, from diabetes.

James Callaghan

The former prime minister, who was married to Audrey for 67 years, was only a widower for 11 days.

Husband of

Audrey Moulton

Labour of love

Cardiac failure was one of the causes of Callaghan's death in 2005 aged 92. The former prime minister died just 11 days after his wife Audrey, who was 91.