Can You Die Of A Broken Heart?

December 29, 2016

It’s all over the news…actress Carrie Fisher died unexpectedly on Tuesday, and one day later, her bereaved mother, Debbie Reynolds also passed.

Some say yes, it is a tragic, tragic coincidence.

But I don’t think there is a single parent who has buried a child thinks that.

In fact, I’m pretty sure most I know, upon hearing of Carrie’s mother’s death, immediately thought she died from a broken heart.

Yes, a broken heart…or more scientifically known as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy. This syndrome is unofficially called “Broken Heart Syndrome,” and is a reversible heart condition that occurs almost exclusively in women, and typically is the result of a severe or emotional or physical stress–say, maybe the traumatic death of one’s child. The condition is also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, and is more prevalent in women 58-75 (most likely because age and life trauma have possibly weakened the heart anyway).

Related: Still Listening: When A Heart Breaks

Broken Heart Syndrome is often initially misdiagnosed as a heart attack mainly because the symptoms and test results are similar in both. The main difference is that while test results will show dramatic changes in the rhthym and blood substances assoicated with a heart attack in both scenarios, with an episode of broken heart syndrome, there is not evidence of blocked arteries as there is when one has a heart attack.

Simply put…broken heart syndrome is where a part of your heart temporarily changes in a very dramatic and poor way, even though the rest of your heart functions like normal, or even over functions to compensate. In a small percentage of cases, this change is literally enough to cause death.

Yes, broken hearts can kill you.

For the most part–they don’t, though we are not quite sure how we survive.  Broken heart syndrome is treatable. It’s often treated as a heart attack would be, and people who experience the cardiomyopathy typically recover fully with low risk for it happening again, even should more trauma occur.

But this is only if you know what is happening….

Related: The Lingering Effects of a Traumatic Loss

I know so many people who probably suffered from this after the loss of their child and it was simply overlooked as panic attack or anxiety attack due to circumstantial grief. I’m not discounting that many situations may have been exactly those, as to this day, so many dear fellow loss moms and I suffer from panic attacks stemming from Post Traumatic Stress.

But I’m concerned that if we don’t really acknowledge the trauma a heart takes when something as life-shattering as learning your child is dead occurs, we are really overlooking the opportunity to help the grieving, and possibly even save lives. We casually throw around the term ‘broken-hearted,’ but the reality is that hearts truly do fail sometimes in the light of trauma, and we need to be cognizant of and compassionate toward this very real thing.

Learning that Debbie Reynolds died the day after her first child died was shocking and sad, but more sadly, not a surprise, and my heart is so sad that her last hours on earth were grieving her loss.

Then again, I can’t deny that I understand her last words of wanting to be with her daughter completely, and my heart hopes she is at peace with her daughter.

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    I'm small, but scrappy! I have a fierce passion for my family, friends and life in general...I'm a military spouse who has battled infertility for over 13 years, as well as the loss of two babies gone too soon. I love to laugh, and am grateful for every second I celebrate with the ones I love. You can find me at Lori Does Maryland


    • B B

      December 29, 2016 at 1:11 pm

      I am also a loss mom. I agree with you about this phenomenon. How do you, you say you like to celebrate and laugh with family and friends, how do you do that after loss? I find myself just smiling at funny things not really laughing.

      1. Lori


        December 29, 2016 at 1:25 pm

        You will…it won’t come easily at first, and then you’ll question every single thing about it because it will feel soooo wrong…but eventually, your brain will recognize that there is still joy in life, and you are much more cognizant of it and grateful for it. Each laugh will be hard-fought, but glorious, and you will be proud of yourself for it. Be gentle with yourself. <3

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