PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The death of Debbie Reynolds led to the question on a lot of minds today: Can you die of a broken heart?
We already know there’s evidence long-term stress can be devastating on a person’s heath, says Einstein Medical Center Chief of Clinical Cardiology Vincent M. Figueredo, M.D.:
“Chronic long-term stress can lead to chronic disease progression,” he said. “This can be heart disease, cancer.”
But sudden stress can be dangerous as well.
Debbie Reynolds reportedly died of a stroke. Her passing just one day after losing a beloved daughter has people talking about “broken heart syndrome.”
Her son, Todd Fisher, told E Online that his mother was under a lot of emotion and stress from the loss of her daughter and “it’s pretty much what triggered this event.”
There is a medical term for broken heart syndrome: stress cardiomyopathy. After a sudden emotional event, the body is flooded with stress hormones such as adrenaline.
Dr. Dina Sparano, a UH Cleveland Medical Center cardiologist, explains “in an extremely stressful, especially a sudden stressful state, there is a large amount of release of these hormones, and there is a possible toxicity that they can pose to the heart muscle, rendering it weak.”
The stress brought on by grief or anxiety can lead to sudden intense chest pain. The symptoms can mimic a heart attack and lead to heart failure.
Stress cardiomyopathy is much more common in women than men, especially women over the age of 50.
“Patients often present very ill and very suddenly, and often require a lot of support to get them through the syndrome,” Dr. Sparano said.
Stress cardiomyopathy is usually not fatal. Doctors say most patients make a full recovery, although some patients do succumb to a broken heart.