Can Love Literally Break Your Heart?

The case for what may have happened to the late Brittany Murphy's husband, who died Sunday.

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(Image credit: Dave Allocca/Rex Features)

As you may have heard, Simon Monjack, the husband of late actress Brittany Murphy was found dead on Sunday. (Murphy, an actress perhaps best known for her role in Clueless — or at least best known by me for that — died five months ago from complications from a respiratory infection and an iron deficiency.) Monjack had some serious cardiovascular problems, and he was scheduled for bypass surgery — a pretty intense operation to have, especially for someone so young.

Today, Murphy's mother — who lived with Monjack up until his death — is saying she thinks he died of heart failure caused by grief over his wife's death. Sharon Murphy told The Daily Mirror: "He's...been in deep distress since Brittany died. We think he has literally died of a broken heart...that the heart problems were caused by the shock of Brittany's death. She was the love of his life."

Although I feel rather jaded when it comes to most things Hollywood, I have to admit, that's pretty sad.

But it also raises the question: Are the suppositions of Murphy's mom at all legit? Could she be right? Can a "broken heart" cause actual medical problems?

In fact, it can.

At least, there are a slew of articles and studies that talk about the negative effects of heartbreak on the old ticker.

It's well known that ongoing stress — a high-pressure job, for instance — is bad for heart health, and prolonged grief over the death of a loved one is also a long-term stressor. What's more, it's becoming more commonly accepted that those suffering from depression and anxiety have more heart problems than the rest of the population. These days, M.D.'s commonly prescribe antidepressants as a "first line of defense" when treating someone with cardiovascular disease. And anyone suffering from heartbreak is likely experiencing some serious stress. That kind of severe unhappiness has a negative effect on our systems: Just like our bodies spontaneously produce tears when we're acutely sad, they also produce certain hormones and chemicals when we're depressed that can affect our hearts.

In some ways, men seem to be particularly at risk for heart problems after a devastating romantic experience, because — as one British researcher has pointed out — they have a more difficult time acknowledging their emotions, which can exacerbate stress and depression. In fact, newly widowed men have a 50 percent higher chance of serious heart problems following their spouse's death than women, according to Professor Martin Cowie of England's Imperial College. (There's even something called "broken heart syndrome," and people who have it exhibit symptoms that mimic those of someone having a heart attack.)

I think this "love can break your heart" stuff is totally legit. In fact, I think there's even a lot of legitimacy in the idea that not-quite-love-but-sleeping-with-someone-you're-really-into-only-to-have-him-abruptly-dump-you-a-couple-months-after-you-get-horizontal can do some serious damage to the blood-pumper. Hell, I'm about ready for a defibrillator if a guy disappears after three dates.

What do you guys think? Have you ever had some major health problems after a romantic disappointment?