While fans were coming to terms with the tragic death of Star Wars icon, Carrie Fisher, 60, they were delivered another painful blow as it was revealed that just one day after the actress’ death, her mother, actress and singer Debbie Reynolds, 84, had died unexpectedly after reportedly suffering a stroke.
But according to Todd Fisher, Debbie’s son, his mother actually died of a broken heart. Opening up to E! News about the 84-year-old’s mindset just before her stroke, he said:
“She went to be with Carrie. In fact, those were the last words that she spoke this morning.”
“She held it together beautifully, obviously, for the last couple of days but she was under a lot of emotion and stress from the loss [of Carrie] and it’s pretty much what triggered this event.”
When couples or close family members die in quick succession, it’s understandable that the second death is often sentimentally attributed to a broken heart. But is it really possible to die of a broken heart?
Some experts certainly believe it is. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the condition, which also goes by the names stress-induced cardiomyopathy and takotsubo cardiomyopathy can happen in people who’ve never actually had heart disease.
The British Heart Foundation describes takotsubo cardiomyopathy as a “temporary condition where your heart muscle becomes suddenly weakened or stunned. The left ventricle, one of the heart’s chambers, changes shape.” It can be brought on by a shock. “About three quarters of people diagnosed with takotsubo cardiomyopathy have experienced significant emotional or physical stress prior to becoming unwell,” the charity says. This stress could include bereavement.
As a result of broken heart syndrome, a person may develop an irregular heartbeat, or the heart may become too weak to pump enough blood throughout the body. Many people simply recover – the stress goes away and the heart returns to its normal shape. But in some extreme cases, the change in the shape of the heart can bring on a heart attack and lead to death.
But what about the rumours that Debbie Reynolds’ death could be attributed to a stroke, rather than a heart attack? It seems some experts believe broken heart syndrome could lead to strokes too. A 2014 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found that the death of a partner can increase a person’s risk of suffering a heart attack or a stroke in the following month. British researchers found that older adults who had lost their partners were about twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke in the 30 days following their spouse’s death compared with people who had not lost a partner.
Other European studies have also found that mortality rates can increase after the loss of loved ones. The death of a spouse, sibling and a child or indeed of an older child, have all been linked to higher mortality.
There is certainly some anecdotal evidence that broken heart syndrome exists. The BBC describes the example of 90-year-old, Don and 87-year-old Maxine Simpson from California. The couple had been inseparable since meeting at a bowling alley in 1952 and were married for 62 years. When Maxine died first in 2014, Don quickly followed just four hours later.
And last year American Footballer, Doug Flutie revealed on social media that his parents had died within just an hour of each other.
“My Dad had been ill and died of a heart attack in the hospital and my Mum, less than an hour later had a sudden heart attack and passed away,” he wrote on Facebook. “They say you can die of a broken heart and I believe it.”
Whether Debbie Reynolds death so soon after that of her daughter’s can ever be officially attributed to a broken heart is difficult to say. But more research is obviously needed to better understand how grief can increase a person’s risk of mortality. In the mean time, it’s a good idea for anyone going through a bereavement to be offered the support they need to cope with their grief both mentally and physically.
RIP Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.
What do you think? Do you know anyone who died from a broken heart? Let us know @YahooStyleUK