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Broken Heart – a Serious, and Real – Condition

Benedict Carey1, “No one can know if the actress Debbie Reynolds — who died on Wednesday, a day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher — died of a broken heart. Ms. Reynolds, 84, had suffered from several health problems in recent years, and doctors said any number of factors could have contributed to her death, possibly from a stroke”.

“But by all accounts, she and her daughter were very close in recent years, and death from a broken heart is a well-established occurrence, both in medical literature and throughout the folklore of the earliest human communities”.

“One form of the phenomenon is called Takotsubo syndrome, after the Japanese term for “octopus trap,” because the heart looks as if it is caught from below, its upper chambers ballooning as if trying to escape.

The sudden loss of a child or spouse, perhaps foremost among life’s cruelties, sets off “an overflow of stress hormones, and the heart can’t take it,” said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “It appears to be a massive heart attack, but”, she said, “the heart is literally stunned”.

“I’ve seen estimates that about 1 percent of perceived heart attacks are because of broken-heart syndrome”, said Dr. Anne Curtis, chair of medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, “and that seems about right. I think every cardiologist has seen cases. We tell people that many will return to normal or near-normal heart function.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine News & Information Services reported in 2005 of the findings of Dr. Ilan Shor Wittstein, Cardiologist at John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland and his research team, “Shocking news, such as learning of the unexpected death of a loved one, has been known to cause catastrophic events, such as a heart attack”.

“Now, they have discovered that sudden emotional stress can also result in severe but reversible heart muscle weakness that mimics a classic heart attack.  Patients with this condition, called stress cardiomyopathy but known colloquially as “broken heart” syndrome, are often misdiagnosed with a massive heart attack when, indeed, they have suffered from a days-long surge in adrenalin (epinephrine) and other stress hormones that temporarily “stun” the heart”.2

Stress, triggering a broken heart, can come in non-lethal forms.  And that is where we at Counseling on Demand can help- by helping ease that stress early on.

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  1. Benedict Carey, Did Debbie Reynolds Die of a Broken Heart?

NY Times, DEC. 29, 2016

  1. Matthew Hunt, Broken Heart Syndrome, (Wittstein quoted)



I am the Founder and CEO of Counseling On Demand with a Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy with over 25 years of experience in helping Individuals, Couples, Adolescents, and Families who struggle with a wide variety of Life's Challenges. I thus have developed an Array of Effective Counseling Tools and Evidenced-Based Interventions to help you towards Your Road to Better Mental Health and Wellness. You are Never Alone...I look forward to meeting with you or your family member soon!