In 2016, people around the world grieved as Carrie Fisher, the actress who played Princess Leia in Star Wars, passed away. The grieving doubled as her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died from a broken heart the next day.
At least that’s what I saw in the news. It seemed like a pretty strange idea that someone can die from a broken heart. But from research, I found that apparently, it is possible to die from a broken heart, from a condition called Broken Heart Syndrome.
But do not worry! If you got your heart broken on Valentine’s Day, like the other one-fourth of the people in Canada who had a breakup, your chances of survival are still pretty high.
Another name for the condition is “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy”, which roughly means “octopus trap cardiac muscle disease”. Cardiac muscles are the muscles in our hearts. When a person suffers from Broken Heart Syndrome, their cardiac muscles will expand and the heart will “inflate”, assuming a similar shape to a Takotsubo, a Japanese octopus trap.
Broken Heart Syndrome is usually stimulated by intense emotional trauma, it could be from heartbreak, or it could be from a huge bill or the death of a loved one – which was the case for Ms. Debbie Reynolds. The intense emotional trauma is accompanied by elevated levels of adrenaline. Elevated levels of adrenaline are found to be the cause of several other heart diseases, but as of now, it’s unclear whether Broken Heart Syndrome is caused by the rise in adrenaline levels.
What happens in Broken Heart Syndrome is that the patient’s heart’s apex, the pointed lowest point, expands and balloons out. The upper portion of the left ventricle, one of the four chambers in the heart, contracts.
The two distortions in shape make the entire shape into an octopus trap. Because the apex, the pointed part, has ballooned out, it cannot contract properly. Not enough blood is pumped out of the heart because of this, and the person could die from it without immediate, proper medical attention, the same way a heart attack kills.
And that’s how you can, quite literally, die from a broken heart.
But the good news is that, without underlying conditions, most patients with Broken Heart Syndrome make good recoveries – especially healthy youngsters like students at Pearson College.