The devastation of heartbreak is something most people have felt in their lives. Whether it be the grief of losing a partner or child, the dissolution of a marriage or losing your home, heartbreak can cut so deep that it feels like it will never leave you.
But is it possible to die from a broken heart?
There is a such thing as “broken heart syndrome”, which is formally known as stress cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
What happens here is that there is a sudden temporary weakening of the muscular portion of the heart – specifically the left ventricle, one of the heart’s chambers, changes shape. “Broken heart syndrome” is different to a heart attack, where the heart stops due to a blockage.
Cardiomyopathy patients, unlike those who suffer heart attacks, have fairly normal coronary arteries and do not have severe blockages or clots. However, the change of shape may eventually lead to a heart attack.
It’s been reported that about three quarters of people diagnosed with cardiomyopathy have experienced significant emotional or physical stress prior to becoming unwell.
Anyone can suffer from a broken heart, it doesn’t discriminate on age, race or gender. It can happen to the biggest of stars or the local grandmother.
Most recently there was the deaths of Hollywood legends, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds.
Carrie passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest on the 27 December, 2016, at the age of 60. A devastating loss for her mother, screen-icon Debbie Reynolds who was 84 at the time, had a severe stroke the very next day.
Even though there was a medical explanation for why Debbie died, her son, and Carrie’s younger brother, Todd Fisher said that Carrie’s death played a large role in why his mother passed.
“When Carrie died, my mother decided to change her plans a bit. My mother always said to me, ‘I never want to go to my daughter’s funeral service. I would like to be buried with Carrie’”.
“I didn’t know she was going to leave us that very next day and when she looked at me to ask permission to leave, she said she wanted to be with Carrie, and she closed her eyes and went to sleep. It was a very peaceful exit that only my mother could’ve orchestrated,” he said.
A little closer to home, one woman told HelloCare the story of her family’s matriarch. A strong willed woman, she was the glue that held the family together. She took care of everyone, from her husband and children to her elderly relatives and in-laws.
She was married when she was very young, and went from her father’s home to her husband’s. She dearly loved her husband, though she did not know him well when they married. She travelled the world with him and his work and raised three children with him, a son and two daughters.
For her, it was important that her children were highly educated, her husband was earning a living and that society looked well upon them. But at her core, family was the most important value for this matriarch.
She was devastated when her husband passed after suffering a fatal heart attack in the 1984. According to her youngest daughter, who she stayed with until her very last day, the loss of their father was also “the day their mother lost the will to live”.
She didn’t let anyone else see that though. She was determined to make sure all her adult children settled down with their own families before she “ever considered leaving this earth”.
At this time, only her eldest daughter was married and had a small toddler. In the next four years she made sure her youngest daughter married and she also started her own family. Her eldest daughter also had her second child.
Not long after her son, the last of her children, was married, the matriarch suffered a mild heart attack. She survived and was given a pacemaker, which according to doctors, her body rejected and eventually led to her death.
However, according to the family, it wasn’t the pacemaker that her body was rejecting – but instead, life without her husband. She lived another 4 years after her husband passed, but really “she was just surviving her broken heart to make sure everyone else was okay”.
Once she was assured that her duty as matriarch was fulfilled, she let her broken heart go and left this world.