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Chest pains caused by negative emotions can be fatal, experts say. Photo: IC

Zhang Yan, a 24-year-old woman, has had a near death experience. Almost a year ago, Zhang discovered that her fiancé cheated on her and broke up with him. The pain and anxiety almost killed her.

"I was too devastated to eat and sleep, and I lapsed into negative emotions every day for a long time. I felt like there was a heavy stone sitting on my chest," she said.

One day, Zhang suddenly felt an acute pain in her chest and could not catch her breath. "It literally felt as if my heart was broken," Zhang said.

She was later diagnosed as suffering from stress-induced cardiomyopathy, also known as "broken heart syndrome."

Zhong Jingmei, a cardiologist at the First People's Hospital of Yunnan Province, explained that the symptoms of broken heart syndrome mimic those of a heart attack: acute chest pains, cardiac arrest, and shortness of breath. She said healthy young people could also suffer from it, and it can be life-threatening.

The syndrome recently claimed the life of Xu Yuyu, an 18-year-old soon-to-be university student from Shandong Province. She died from cardiac arrest on August 21 after being sad for two days. Xu was swindled out of her 9,900 yuan ($1,482) university tuition by a telephone scam gang on August 19, reported news portal qq.com.

The gang claimed to be university staff and asked her to transfer her money to a savings account to get more money back as her university subsidy. When Xu found out that it was a scam, it was too late to get her money back. Xu was upset and cried for two days. She fainted on the second day and never regained consciousness.

According to the qq.com report, Xu was healthy and did not have any heart-related diseases.

Zhong said broken heart syndrome is an example of what unchecked negative emotions can do to people's health.

"When people experience strong emotional blows, their cardiac muscles contract dramatically, and their heartbeat will weaken and cause chest distress," she said. "That's why we say your heart breaks when you are sad."

Zhong said in most cases the patient recovers after emergency medical treatment or the heart heals itself after the person calms down and has some rest.

Zhang was lucky. She was rushed to the hospital and recovered after a couple of days. However, many others, including Xu, were not as fortunate.

"In some cases, the symptoms caused by extreme negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, and disappointment may trigger acute heart failure, malignant arrhythmia, a ventricular rupture, and death," Zhong said.

She said that broken heart syndrome is directly linked to people's character. Individuals who are irritable or impulsive are more likely to suffer from it, while those who are easygoing and patient are more likely to escape it.

Zhong suggested that people actively seek solutions to relieve pressure and deal with negative emotions, like talking to their family, friends or even a professional counselor.

She also suggested that people not let themselves be consumed with negative emotions for too long.

"Some people cannot stop reliving their sad memories, which brings them endless negative emotions and increases their risks of developing broken heart syndrome," she said.

For Zhang, although her experience with heartbreak was painful and scary, it taught her how important emotion control and staying happy is.

"I thought heart break was only a metaphor. I never thought that it could actually affect people's health, but now I need to pay more attention to my emotions and not let negative emotions break my heart again," she said.