NBC Nightly News: Can You Die Of A Broken Heart? They Say Yes!

Long Time Partners09-24-2012 Brian Williams of NBC’s Nightly News sadly reported an obituary in the New York Times announcing the death of the mother of Christie Brinkley at the age of 91.  The obituary said her mother’s heart never survived losing the love of her life, her husband who predeceased her by seven weeks.  Brian Williams said it’s very common after the death of a longtime spouse. But is sadness also a medical condition?  Can we really die of a broken heart?  NBC’s Chief Medical Editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman helps us to understand. 

Dr. Snyderman tells us of Cindy, who having held vigil for three days during the recovery of her husband’s heart attack, at that very hospital she also went into cardiac arrest.  Dr. Snyderman said that Cindy was suffering from a condition literally called broken heart syndrome. 90% of the patients who experience it are postmenopausal women mostly over age 55.

The doctor explained that the extreme stress of her husband’s medical crisis triggered Cindy’s brain to send a signal to her adrenal glands which released an unusual surge of stress hormones into her bloodstream.  That surge rushed to her heart essentially paralyzing part of it,  causing it to balloon out and then shut down.

Dr. Ilan Wittstein of John Hopkins Medical says “We think that as women age their hearts and small blood vessels around their heart become more susceptible to the stress hormones.  So the stress that you might experience at the age of 25 when your estrogen levels are high, might not have the same effect on your heart as it might when you’re 65 years old… There are cases of people dying of this condition and when I’m asked if you can die of a broken heart I say ‘Absolutely, yes you can!'”

 

 

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