ORLANDO, Fla. — Have you heard of "broken heart syndrome?" For example, an elderly couple dying days apart. 

  • UCF researchers look deeper into "broken heart syndrome"
  • Severe emotional stress may cause broken heart syndrome
  • Overproduction of adrenaline may cause heart to stop beating
  • Broken heart syndrome most common in women

During American Heart Month, the UCF College of Medicine took a deeper look into "broken heart syndrome."

We all have heart aches, but for some, that anguish actually manifests. 

"It's like you're having a heart attack, but it's not really a heart attack," Dr. Steven Ebert with UCF College of Medicine said. 

That "heart attack" is called broken heart syndrome and is brought on by severe emotional stress, usually from the loss of a loved one or a catastrophic event. 

"You either get very weak beating or no beating at all," Dr. Ebert said. 

Dr. Ebert has studied the phenomenon for a decade. His theory? The heart can produce adrenaline, but during severe stress, the heart overproduces it, which stunts beating and limits blood flow. And that's on top of all the adrenaline coming from the nerves and bloodstream. 

"Once you reach a certain maximum, if you keep putting more of the hormone on there, the heart stops responding. It's like a defensive mechanism because it would literally probably break, because it's beating so heavily," he explained.

Dr. Ebert has found that broken heart syndrome mostly affects women, especially those post-menopausal. 

He believes estrogen protects the heart against stress hormones, so losing estrogen, means no adrenaline shield. 

"There's a lot of unknowns, and that's the power of research, is trying to answer those unknown questions."

And that's what Dr. Ebert plans to continue doing — asking those questions and finding the answers.