Could You Really Die Of A Broken Heart?
Fairlady|February 2018

Also known as stress-induced or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome is a real condition usually sparked by an extremely stressful event – and it can look like an actual heart attack.

Shireen Fisher

An increasing body of research shows that a traumatic event, like losing a loved one, not only makes you feel as if your heart is breaking, but also has the ability to change your heart physically. An overly stressful, traumatic life can do the same.

According to the American Heart Association, even healthy people can be affected by broken heart syndrome, which has been associated with depression, mental health issues and heart disease.

When actress Debbie Reynolds passed away on 28 December 2016, just one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, had died, the general feeling was that the Singin’ in the Rain actress had died of a broken heart, despite the fact that her death certificate reported her cause of death as ‘intracerebral haemorrhage’, a type of stroke.

And on 29 June last year, when News24 reported the passing of SABC journalist Suna Venter, the headline read: ‘Broken Heart Syndrome kills “SABC 8” journalist Suna Venter.’ She had reportedly been diagnosed with stress cardiomyopathy or ‘broken heart syndrome’ some time before her death. Suna’s family believe the condition was brought on by traumatic experiences and extended periods of unnatural stress [Suna was one of eight SABC journalists fired for standing against former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s ban on airing footage of violent anti-ANC protests].

Dr Shirley Middlemost has published two articles on broken heart syndrome, one of which she co-wrote with fellow cardiologist Dr Tom Mabin in the Cardiovascular Journal of South Africa.

‘Takotsubo [which is what the Japanese call broken heart syndrome] is a type of cardiomyopathy, which is a severe weakness of the heart muscle,’ she says. ‘As it’s often caused by stress, it is also known as broken heart or stress heart syndrome.’

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