Cardiologist confirms having a "broken heart" can cause death

Published: Dec. 29, 2016 at 5:47 PM CST
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The death of a famous mother and daughter, who died within a day of one another, has some wondering if you can really die of a broken heart.

Actress Debbie Reynolds, 84, died of possible stroke Wednesday night, just one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher, 60, passed away after suffering a heart attack.

Mayo Clinic Health System says broken heart syndrome is not only real but it is actually more common than you think.

Cardiologist Andrew Calvin says it’s usually seen between spouses but occasionally occurs in parent-child relationships.

“Broken heart syndrome is a real thing. It's something we see and diagnose on routine basis, even right here in Eau Claire,” explained Calvin. “Knowing about this broken heart syndrome we certainly think about it when somebody dies in close proximity of a loved one.”

Calvin says broken heart syndrome usually occurs in people who are very sick or have suffered a recent psychological shock to their system.

“Broken heart syndrome causes poor function of typically the bottom of the heart, that we call the apex, and it cause it to balloon out. This causes the heart to not pump properly,” explained Calvin.

Stress also causes elevated blood pressure which Mayo Clinic says makes people more prone to strokes.

It also cause and increase in inflammation which is another risk for cardiovascular disease.

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department says heart related diseases in the area are comparable to national numbers.

Director Lieske Giese explained, “In Eau Claire every year there are typically over 200 people that die of heart disease related issues. There are more than 150 people that show up in the emergency room, in Eau Claire County, with heart attacks.”

Giese says basic healthy behaviors will help lessen the risk for poor heart health.

“Not smoking is a really important factor,” said Giese. “Excessive alcohol use is also a contributing factor to heart disease that many people aren't aware of that. Keeping a healthy weight, getting some exercise and eating a healthy diet will all make an enormous difference in whether or not someone is impacted by heart disease.”

Mayo Clinic does say a majority of patients do recover from broken heart syndrome; many within a few days, only in severe cases does death occur.

The health department says if you're at risk for heart disease and feeling stress from the death of a loved one it is a good idea to seek medical treatment if experiencing symptoms.