Could Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds have died from a broken heart?
Those with a sentimental bent may attribute Reynolds’ death, just one day after the loss of her daughter, “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher, to just that.
But there may be a medical reason, too.
Though Reynolds, 84, had health problems in recent years, including a mini-stroke, a Long Island expert says her death could have been caused by a little-known cardiac condition known as “broken heart syndrome.”
William Lawson, a cardiologist and professor at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine, said emotional distress caused by a traumatic event like the death of a loved one can trigger the symptoms.
“I’ve seen a husband come in to be treated for a heart attack and later the wife, who’s under great stress, will then come down with broken heart syndrome,” he said. “Or if I have to tell a family that someone has passed, the bad news will cause a family member to be affected.”
Sufferers experience symptoms similar to that of a heart attack, such as chest pain, excessive sweating and shortness of breath, according to David Friedman, chief of heart failure services at Northwell Health’s LIJ-Valley Stream hospital.
In many patients, the heart muscle temporarily weakens and the tip of the heart swells, appearing “balloon-like,” Friedman said.
The condition was first recognized in 1990 by researchers in Japan, who called it takotsubo syndrome, because the bulbous shape of affected hearts resemble a takotsubo, a pot used by Japanese fishermen to trap octopus, Lawson said.
What causes the condition is still unknown, though some researchers believe it’s related to a sudden surge of stress hormones, Lawson said.
Broken heart syndrome is relatively rare and most often affects postmenopausal women, said Dr. Thomas Pappas, director of St. Francis Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory.
Over the past 10 years, Pappas said he’s seen about a dozen cases, with almost all of the patients linked to the death of a family member. One patient, he said, was stricken during her son’s funeral.
“For her, the emotion and the horrible situation was what triggered it,” Pappas said.
Reynolds suffered an apparent stroke, her family said. Fisher was hospitalized after a heart attack and died Tuesday.
The stress of her daughter’s death “was too much” for Reynolds, her son, Todd Fisher, told reporters Wednesday in Los Angeles.
“She said, ‘I want to be with Carrie,’” he said. “And then she was gone.”
It hasn’t been determined if Reynolds died from broken heart syndrome.
But considering the tragic timing, Lawson said it’s “certainly possible.”
With Delthia Ricks