Losing a loved one can be an incredibly stressful experience, but did you know you can die of a broken heart?

Many characters in classic novels have been known, upon hearing of the death of their companion or lover, to die on the spot from the emotional trauma of it all.

However, dying of a broken heart isn't solely the preserve of fiction – there have long been rumours of real people dropping dead after something as traumatic as the loss of their spouse.

And what's more, there appears to be proof. A 1969 study by the British Medical Journal showed that, among 4,500 widowers surveyed, their chance of dying in the 6 months following the death of their spouse was 40% higher than average.

More recent studies have supported this, though subsequent medical advancements have resulted in the rate dropping to around 30%.

The most dramatic cause of death from heartbreak is something called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which can lead to sudden, and lethal, heart failure.

This condition is most common in post-menopausal women but can affect anyone suffering from severe emotional trauma.

The main cause seems to be a flood of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which put the muscles of the heart under extreme pressure.

Even if this stress doesn't kill you outright, it can still lead to a slew of other health issues that can make your grip on life somewhat precarious.

Image via Thinkstock.