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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Broken heart syndrome

Science has now proved what we knew all along - you really can die of a broken heart. When a husband or wife dies, scientists in the US found that the remaining spouse has a 66 per cent chance of dying within the first three months of their death.

But it doesn't just happen to married couples, it can happen to anyone. Last year, Marcus Ringrose, the grieving husband of Doctor Who actress Mary Tamm who died of cancer, gave an impressive 20 minute eulogy at her funeral and died the next day. Although he was fit and healthy, his death was officially called Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, a cardiac condition triggered by emotional stress.

Marcus Ringrose and his wife Mary Tamm

The correct medical term is Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, first recognised by Japanese doctors in the 1990s who named it after noticing a resemblance between a Japanese octopus trap and the elongated shape of the affected heart on an X-ray.  Broken Heart Syndrome is actually a temporary inflammatory heart condition that affects the heart muscle.

Peter Joyce is a fit, healthy, 34 year old Australian engineer.  He and his girlfriend Heidi had been together for five years and had plans to buy a house together when they returned from a summer holiday in the US.  But not long after coming home, Heidi suddenly left him. 

"It was like my world ended" he said.  "She said she didn't want to be with me anymore, I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, I didn't want to go to work or hang out with my friends.  My chest hurt so badly, sometimes my heart would start beating really fast and felt like it would explode." Then one day at the office he blacked out.

He was rushed to hospital and after a series of tests, the doctor asked him if he had lost someone close to him or been through a traumatic experience recently.  When he told him his girlfriend had left him, the doctor told him he had stress cardiomyopathy or broken heart syndrome.  Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, lethargy, heart palpitations, fainting episodes and chest pain. During an extremely stressful event, the body releases hormones that cause the heart to become elongated and pumping efficiency is great reduced.

So it's true, you can die of  broken heart.

Can we get over it?  Of course we can, it just takes time.  It's an unavoidable truth, if you love enough to have your heart broken, you will suffer.  It's the price we pay for loving too much.