Earlier this week actress Carrie Fisher died of a heart attack while on an international flight. She was 60-years old. Only one day later her mother Debbie Reynolds, 84 passed away and doctors say several factors could have caused her death.
We've all heard this: "She died of a broken heart." It's said frequently when a person dies and their loved one dies shortly after. Nurses who are medically trained are often quick to dismiss this and seek a true scientific cause for the person's death.
Don't be so quick to decide that dying from a broken heart is just folklore and nonsense.
Many of us have seen it for ourselves. I've even seen it occur with my dogs. I owned two Border Collies several years ago. When one passed, the other one soon followed for no apparent reason. Nurses who work in Long-term care tend to see this phenomenon, but none of us are really sure what causes it.
This type of death even has a name in medical literature. it's called Takotsubo syndrome. On autopsy, the heart appears to be trapped on both ventricles and balloons out from the upper chambers as if it is attempting to escape.
The symptoms can mimic a stroke or a heart attack and people often attribute the death to stress. But the huge surge of stress hormones from the shock of a loved one's death can effect any heart at any age. Most people survive these attacks, but they can result in death if the heart is already too weak to withstand the sudden hormonal influx.
According to medical literature and explanations by Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “It appears to be a massive heart attack,” but, she said, “the heart is literally stunned.”
There are estimates that approximately 1 percent of all heart attacks are due to broken-heart syndrome and all cardiologist are familiar with cases like the one involving Debbie Reynolds.
Ms. Reynolds was reported to have said that she wanted to be with her daughter when she heard the news of her death.
Research in the The New England Journal of Medicine in 2005 revealed that doctors at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine had 19 cases of patients who were transported to coronary care units following what were perceived to be classic heart attack signs and symptoms. All the patients survived and all the cases occurred after major stress in the life of each patient.
During the study, Dr. Wittstein acknowledged that the only cases reported prior to the 19 patients at Johns Hopkins were in Japanese medical literature. Now, there are thousands of cases of broken-heart syndrome and most are cases of middle-aged women. One possible theory is that estrogen protects vessels and the hormone declines in women as they age.
When I lost my Mother to a cerebral hemorrhage I was completely devastated. I had heard people talk about emotional pain before, but had never really experienced it until then. The only way I can describe it is to say that it felt like a massive gaping hole in my chest that hurt so badly. Not physical pain, but emotionally. So there's no doubt in my mind that someone could die from a broken heart.
I can't imagine a more painful experience than the loss of a child. One can't help but wonder if at some primal level we control what we can and cannot endure in this world and when it becomes too much we just can't go on....Interesting to say the least that a heart really can be broken.