Hollywood royalty Debbie Reynolds died at 84—just one day after her beloved actress daughter Carrie Fisher passed away at 60 from a heart attack. The two shared a unique mother-daughter bond and lived on neighboring properties. They usually spent their days together, as could be seen in the incredibly funny documentary, Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, which chronicled their lives together.
Tragic coincidence? Not likely, say experts who have studied death tied to a broken heart. Ever read about those older couples who die within minutes of each other? There’s something scientific to it.
Prominent New York doctor Dr. Eric Scardina has seen it happen, and explains it can even cause sudden death, like in the case of Debbie upon learning of Carrie.
"There is actually something called broken heart syndrome you can have MI (myocardial infarction) a heart attack and sudden death," he says.
According to the American Heart Association, Debbie’s sadness could very well have contributed to the end of her life. A “broken heart” often refers to emotional heartbreak, but the AHA has found that a deep level of sadness can have actual cardiac consequences. And women are more likely to suffer from the physical effects than men.
Called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, the study says it can be caused by “the death of a loved one or even a divorce, break up or physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection.” Scientists discovered that the death of someone very close to us causes stress hormones and adrenaline to flood to the heart, causing it to balloon.
According to the study, falling ill of a broken heart can even happen when you are otherwise healthy.
“Women are more likely than men to experience the sudden, intense chest pain — the reaction to a surge of stress hormones — that can be caused by an emotionally stressful event. It could be the death of a loved one or even a divorce, breakup or physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection. It could even happen after a good shock (like winning the lottery),” the study says. “Broken heart syndrome may be misdiagnosed as a heart attack because the symptoms and test results are similar. In fact, tests show dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substances that are typical of a heart attack. But unlike a heart attack, there’s no evidence of blocked heart arteries in broken heart syndrome.”
When the broken hearted person’s heart is enlarged the rest of your heart function are effected negatively and can lead to heart failure.
Think it sounds crazy? There are physical effects to look for. Angina (chest pain) and shortness of breath are a few.
But it differs from a straight heart attack.
The EKG (a test that records the heart’s electric activity) results don’t look the same as one from a person having a heart attack and blood tests show no signs of heart damage.
“Tests show ballooning and unusual movement of the lower left heart chamber,” reports the study.
And you can recover.
“Recovery time is quick, usually within days or weeks (compared with the recovery time of a month or more for a heart attack),” says the study.
According to grief expert David Kessler, you’d better believe death from a broken heart really does happen.
“I think it's extremely underdiagnosed,” he told USA Today. "I think it's more common than we believe.”
And Debbie's son Todd Fisher agrees, telling the Associated Press that his sister's death was "too much" for their mom.
"She said, 'I want to be with Carrie.' And then she was gone," he said. "She’s now with Carrie and we’re all heartbroken."
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