Nicole

Did Debbie Reynolds Die of a Broken Heart?

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Her daughter Carrie Fisher died a day earlier. Here's what science says about "broken heart syndrome"

Fans stunned by the sudden passing of Debbie Reynolds one day after the death of her daughter Carrie Fisher were left wondering whether a broken heart or extreme grief was a factor in Reynolds’ death.

Reynolds, 84, died Wednesday, after her 60-year-old daughter passed away Tuesday. Fisher had reportedly suffered a heart attack a few days earlier. Reynolds’ son Todd Fisher told the Associated Press that the stress of his sister’s death “was too much” for his mother. “I want to be with Carrie,” Todd Fisher recalled his mother saying moments before she died.

The official cause of Reynolds’ death, and the state of her health prior to Fisher’s death, are both still unclear. And at 84, Reynolds had already lived past the average life expectancy for American women. But scientific research illustrates that it’s possible to suffer real cardiac consequences from severe emotional stress.

Broken heart syndrome, or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, can be sparked by an “extremely stressful event,” even among healthy people, according to the American Heart Association. The condition has been tied to depression, mental health issues and heart disease, and can follow emotionally taxing events like the death of a loved one. Broken heart syndrome can be mistaken for a heart attack because the two conditions yield similar test results and cause similar symptoms like intense chest pain and shortness of breath, researchers say. The main difference, according to the American Heart Association, is that unlike a heart attack, there’s no evidence of blocked heart arteries in broken heart syndrome.

It’s unclear if any of this was at play in Reynolds’ death. Experts say it’s rare for someone who suffers from broken heart syndrome to die from the treatable condition, but it has been known to lead to severe, short-term heart muscle failure.

A study, published April in the journal Open Heart, found that people going through a partner’s death face a significantly higher risk of serious heart problems. The study’s author, Simon Graff, also stressed at the time that scientists cannot say for sure that the feelings of loss directly cause heart problems, but he suggested that a “time of grief is not only a mental state but maybe also physical.”

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    • By Nicole
      The death of a life partner may trigger an irregular heartbeat, itself potentially life-threatening, according to research into the risk of dying from a broken heart.
      A trawl of data on nearly one million Danish people showed an elevated risk, lasting about a year, of developing a heart flutter. Those under 60 whose partners died unexpectedly were most in peril.
      The risk was highest “8-14 days after the loss, after which it gradually declined”, said a study published in the online journal Open Heart on Wednesday.
      “One year after the loss, the risk was almost the same as in the non-bereaved population.”
      Much research has focused on explaining the observed phenomenon of people dying soon after their life partner.
      Several studies have shown that grieving spouses have a higher risk of dying, particularly of heart disease and stroke, but the mechanism is unclear.
      The latest study asked specifically whether bereaved partners were more likely than others to develop atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat and a risk factor for stroke and heart failure.
      Researchers in Denmark used population data collected between 1995 and 2014 to search for a pattern.
      Of the group, 88,612 people had been newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF) and 886,120 were healthy.
      “(T)he risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for the first time was 41% higher among those who had been bereaved than it was among those who had not experienced such a loss,” said the study led by Simon Graff of Aarhus University.
      Younger people, those under 60, were more than twice as likely to develop problems, and those whose partners were relatively healthy in the month before death, thus not expected to die, were 57% more at risk.
      The team cautioned that no conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, as the study was merely an observational one, looking at correlations in data.
      Several factors that could throw the findings out of whack, such as the bereaved group’s diet, exercise regime, or predisposal to AF, were not known.
      The loss of a partner is considered one of the most stressful life events.
      It can lead to mental illness symptoms such as depression, and can cause people to lose sleep and appetite, drink too much and stop exercising – all known health risks.
      Source: 
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