Monday, July 25, 2011

Medical Mondays: Broken Heart Syndrome

Hey there! Hope you all had a great weekend.

Today's question comes from Charli Mac. She had a bunch of great questions about a motor vehicle accident that causes all sorts of chaos, but I wanted to focus on this particular question:

"I also have a character suffering for blunt force trauma to the chest. After surgery he is wonky but speaking to his kids. When he hears his wife passes he cries and and basically dies of a broken heart (literally). Is this remotely possible?
"

Surprisingly, the answer is yes. People can truly die of broken hearts.

Here's the science behind it. Broken Heart Syndrome (also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, apical ballooning cardiomyopathy) is a known entity in the medical world. (FYI cardio=heart; myo=muscle; -pathy=disease)

The Japanese name for it (takotsubo) comes from the Japanese word for the octopus trap that the left ventricle resembles as it balloons outward.

The majority of the cases are in women, though it's not unheard of in men. It can occur after a major physical or emotional stress (think sudden death of a family member; devastating news or sudden illness; natural disaster).

The symptoms can be similar to those of a sudden heart attack, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and fainting. The sufferer can have heart failure (including fluid build-up in the lungs and low blood pressure). Shock (dangerously low blood pressure), stroke, and dangerous or fatal heart rhythms can also occur.

Though death can occur (the range of reports span 0-8% death rate in the hospital), many who do survive are lucky enough to see their heart function recover quite a bit.

Thanks Charli for a great question and an extremely fascinating topic. Sadly, broken hearts aren't just figurative in our world.

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer.

49 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I'm not surprised this can happen at all. The mind and body are so connected!

GigglesandGuns said...

Fascinating. Glad you recognize the depth of this question.
Thanks.

Carol Kilgore said...

I'm not surprised it really happens either. Good to know. Thanks!

Karen Lange said...

Always wondered about this. Thanks for the info. Have a great week!

Jemi Fraser said...

We always said my grandmother died of a broken heart - now I know it's probably true.

Magan said...

Oh wow another interesting one!

Linda Gray said...

Corroboration of an intuitive truth! It does make sense. The more I learn about mind/body health issues, the more convinced I am that this is an incredibly important area of medicine. Thanks, Lydia.

Deb Salisbury said...

I'd wondered if it was a literary device. Nice to know the facts. Thanks!

Bossy Betty said...

What a hideous way to go. Yikes.

France Rants said...

The human body is amazing....

Bathwater said...

I am not surprised it happens under those conditions either.

Kelly said...

Wow. So sad and poetic.

LTM said...

wow! That's ... sad. And super-interesting (as always). You know, I've even heard of animals who "grieve to death" after losing like a close animal friend or owner. I wonder if it's the same thing. :o) <3

Jennifer Shirk said...

Aww...I'm not surprised it's real either.

Suze said...

Not the least bit surprising. Mind and body are inextricably linked. We are composed of our thoughts in a far more fundamental manner than the predominating ideas of our post-Enlightenment centuries might put forth. Very much liked reading your response, doctor.

Charli Mac said...

Thanks soo much Lydia. Your expertise is greatly appreciated as I knock off all my darling characters in extremely tragic ways. :)

BTW, my grandpop died one month after my grandmother. It happens.

Munk said...

That hurts.

Old Kitty said...

Wow. That's so sad!! But it's possible to die of a broken heart! Oh wow!! thanks Lydia!!! Great question, fab answer!! take care
x

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Excellent post once again. My hero, Blake Adamson, is thought to have died of a broken heart in my first novel of him. Actually, it was a case of misplaced trust. Don't you hate when that happens?

Have a great new week, Roland

Krispy said...

Always wondered about how closely tied our minds and bodies are, and I guess this answers it. Interesting to see that it's not just a dramatic literary device!

Sarah said...

Aw, this entry makes me sad!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Didn't know it was real. However, I know several men who passed away just months after their wives died, so wonder if that contributed?

Talli Roland said...

Yikes, that's so sad! But makes sense, I guess.

Clarissa Draper said...

Wow, what a great question. I never knew a person could die of a broken heart.

Olga said...

Just the name of the disease implies that it's impossible to cure it.

julie fedderson said...

Lydia,
This is one of my favorite bizarre medical entities--love the neurocardiac connection. It is also asserted to be connected to voodoo deaths--the shock/fear connection to heart function. Super post!

Erin Cole said...

Great question and happy to know the terminology and the process behind the infamous broken-heart syndrome.

Giles Hash said...

That's good to know. Along those lines, is adrenaline ever involved in "broken heart syndrome?" Like when someone gets incredibly angry with someone, is about to get into a physical fight, etc..

vbtremper said...

A completely literary concept.

Regina said...

I had never heard of that before. Wow, that is amazing. Thanks for the post.

The Golden Eagle said...

I hadn't known people could die of a broken heart . . . how sad. :(

But a great question!

notesfromnadir said...

Always thought that dying of a broken heart is what happens in books & movies!

Sarah said...

I guess that makes sense, when you think about how much of shock can sometimes be attributable to emotional causes or the interaction between the emotional-physiological. Intriguing as always, Lydia.

M Pax said...

Yay, it's medical Monday. You always have something fascinating. I never would have thought broken heart could be actually physical. Interesting.

Jonene Ficklin said...

I love the explanations along with the diagnosis. Wow. That one's crazy. Thanks for filling us in!

Emy Shin said...

This is the most awesome (if slightly terrifying) post ever. It reminds me of a new YA novel coming out about a girl who died of a broken heart.

Jennifer Hillier said...

Sad and fascinating... I knew someone who died, and we all thought it was from a broken heart, as her husband had passed away only two years before (and they were both relatively young).

Medeia Sharif said...

I suspected this was true. Thanks for the explanation.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Very interesting! And sad.

J.L. Campbell said...

Every day I learn something new. Thanks!

Leslie Rose said...

There are so many stories you hear about devoted couples passing closely together. It makes bittersweet sense now.

Samantha VĂ©rant said...

Wow! I'm surprised I didn't die as a teen-- a few times.

The Blonde Duck said...

Fellow writer popping in to say hi! I've heard about this but didn't know it was real!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Someone close to me suffered from all this, I am kind of familiar with it. Once again, a very informative post.

Ciara said...

I always think of Ann Frank when this is discussed. What a tragic story.

Indigo said...

Fascinating! My family always said my grandfather died from a broken heart. He passed away three months to the day after my grandmother. I always thought we romanticized his passing. Never imagined it might have actually been true. (Hugs)Indigo

Shelley Munro said...

What an interesting post. It explains how so many couples die so closely together.

Suze said...

Funny to be brought back here after all of that blog-hopping. I remember this post, distinctly.

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