Yes, you can die of a broken heart

Dec 29, 2016

Credit freeimages.com/Benjamin Earwicker

The death this week of Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds, just one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher, has some wondering if you can die of a broken heart.

Eugene Storozynsky, M.D., a cardiologist at UR Medicine, says the short answer is "yes."

He says a severely stressful situation can result in a surge of adrenaline that overwhelms the blood vessels and heart muscle, leading to a condition known as "broken heart syndrome," or takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

Dr. Storozynsky says it's relatively rare and typically not fatal.

"But I think if you put anyone in an unbelievable stressful situation that they were otherwise unprepared for, certainly a person can have this condition happen to them."

Debbie Reynolds' son Todd Fisher says his mother missed his sister, and told him ``I want to be with Carrie.'' 

The arteries of patients who experience stress-related cardiomyopathy typically do not show significant blockages, Dr. Storozynsky said.

"They may have some abnormality in their heart arteries, but not a true blockage that one would have with the presentation of an acute heart attack, for example."

The condition could affect otherwise healthy people with no history of heart disease.

Debbie Reynolds was 84. Carrie Fisher died Tuesday at age 60 after falling ill on a plane on Friday.