Sadness could literally break your heart, UAE doctors warn as woman suffers massive heart attack

She was unable to process the news about her daughter’s fingers being amputated due to a medical emergency


Sahim Salim

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Published: Tue 30 Apr 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 30 Apr 2024, 11:12 PM

Grief can actually break one’s heart. This is a scientific fact and not just a linguistic expression, UAE-based experts have said. This came as doctors saved the life of a 70-year-old visitor who suffered from multiple heart stoppages as she grappled “severe grief.” She was unable to process the news about her daughter’s fingers being amputated due to a medical emergency.

“Sadness leads to the release of stress hormones … which cause constriction of the coronary artery, leading to a heart attack,” explained Dr Karim Mustafa, consultant cardiologist and head of the Emergency Department at Kuwait Hospital, Sharjah. “These hormones temporarily interfere with the function of the heart and affect it, leading to a group of heart conditions and diseases."

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In addition, events accompanied by severe sadness increase the levels of two molecules in heart cells, which play an important role in the development of what is known as ‘broken heart syndrome’ or ‘Takotsubo heart disease’. This syndrome occurs when the heart muscle suddenly weakens and the shape of the left heart valve changes,” added Dr Mustafa.

Referring to the 70-year-old’s case, Dr Ahmed Khaled from Kuwait Hospital said her daughter suffered from a complicated blood circulation disease that affected her hands. This caused gangrene of her fingers, which led to surgical amputation.

Her mother had come to the UAE after this. “The septuagenarian was outside the house. When they were talking about her daughter’s incident, she started crying and became emotional … and then suddenly suffered from a cardiac arrest.”

She was rushed to the hospital, where medical tests uncovered a massive heart attack, a rapid decline in circulation and a sharp drop in blood pressure.

After a life-saving treatment plan, the woman was discharged from the hospital in a stable condition.

Conveying bad news

Patients at risk of not receiving bad news well are those who have chronic heart diseases like myocardial infarction or severe coronary artery insufficiency.

“It is preferable to avoid delivering bad news to those suffering from advanced heart disease or to report it gradually and in selected words,” said Dr Mustafa.

Afra Salem, a psychologist, therapeutic psychology practitioner and director of the hospital, said some people don’t have the psychological ability to withstand the shock of receiving sad news. It can potentially lead to loss of consciousness, paralysis, stroke, mental mutism and even stomach ulcers.

Stages of grief

Salem said communicating bad news is an “art and skill”. She explained the different stages of grief people go through on receiving bad news:

  • Intellectual paralysis: They lose the ability to think and perhaps concentrate. They may remain silent.
  • Denial: They do this so as to calm down.
  • Helplessness: A feeling of complete helplessness in the face of what happened prevails.
  • Acceptance.
  • Conscious behaviour: The recipients of the bad news choose how they will deal with it.
  • Thought process: They will ascertain the path to process the news.
  • Transition: Integration of behaviour and transition to another life stage. Some events constitute a complete change in the course of life.

She also offered tips to convey news the right way:

  • Evaluate the psychological state of the person who is to receive the news.
  • Convey the news gradually; start by preparing the recipient for it and present the less painful aspects first.
  • Factor in religious spirituality as you convey the news. This helps the recipient calm down and reduces the intensity of emotions.
  • Choose the appropriate place and time; make sure the recipient is in a safe space.


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