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Died of a Broken Heart

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The Science of a Broken Heart

Heartbreak is a real, occasionally fatal thing.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (TC) isn’t easy to say three times fast. It’s also not easy on your heart. Better known as broken heart syndrome, TC revolves around the weakening of the muscular portion of your heart that’s triggered by emotional stress — e.g. a bad break-up. This can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

The disease is named after Japanese octopus traps, which coincidentally are shaped like your heart’s left ventricular apex (when it balloons due to immense stress, anyway). Despite similar symptoms, broken heart syndrome is nothing like a heart attack.

“Typically, patients will have the same symptoms of a heart attack: chest pain, shortness of breath, and sweating,” says cardiologist Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, medical director of Bethesda Memorial Hospital’s Chest Pain/Heart Failure Center. “The main difference is their arteries are completely clean. There are no blockages.”

What becomes of the broken-hearted

  • "Broken heart" is referred to in the 1611 King James Version of the Bible: "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit." (Psalms 34:18)
  • Shakespeare features several characters who expire for love - King Lear perishes shortly after discovering the murder of his daughter Cordelia, and in Romeo and Juliet, Lady Montague is reported by her husband to have died of a broken heart: "Grief of my son's exile hath stopp'd her breath"
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson's 1842 poem, The Lady of Shalott, relates how the tragic damsel of Arthurian legend lay down in a boat to die and be discovered by Lancelot, the knight she loved: "For ere she reach'd upon the tide/ The first house by the water-side,/ Singing in her song she died,/ The Lady of Shalott."

People who died of a broken heart:

  • Edmund Williams in Wales, died 1 wk after his wife Margaret Williams died. In his grief, he stopped living. Her funeral became their funeral - two coffins beside each other, the couple united in death as they had been in life.
  • The same month, also in Wales, 101-year-old Clifford Hartland died while he was waiting for his wife, Marjorie, to return home from hospital after being discharged with a broken leg. Their daughter Christine said that her mother phoned her that evening in distress, and Christine told her to think about their happy years of marriage while she drifted off to sleep. Marjorie died at 01:00 that night on the couple's 76th wedding anniversary.
  • And about the same time Don and Maxine Simpson died in Bakersfield in California. He was 90 and she was 87, and they were as inseparable as they had always been after meeting at a bowling alley in 1952 and marrying that same year. Maxine died first and four hours later, by her side, Don followed.
  • A similar sad scene was also played out in April with Kenneth and Helen Felumlee in Nashport, Ohio, in the US. They were both in their 90s and had been married for 70 years. Helen died and Kenneth followed 15 hours later. As their daughter told the local paper: "We knew when one went, the other was going to go. We wanted them to go together and they did." The family said the couple had shared a bed for 70 years - when they were once allocated bunks on a ferry, they had snuggled up on the single bed below.
  • Losing a loved one doubles a person's risk of having a heart attack. Doctor Who actress Mary Tamm died in July 2012 and her husband, Marcus Ringrose, died the day after her funeral of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome
  • Simon Monjack, 39, died five months after his wife, Brittany Murphy, died of pneumonia
  • Matriarch Sarah, there is a legend that Sarah died of a broken heart as she learned of God’s command to Abraham to offer their son Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. The sword pierced her heart, as it did Mary’s when she witnessed the slaying of her illustrious Son at Calvary. When Sarah saw her husband and son leaving the tent, taking with them wood and a large knife she became terrified with shock and died.

Additional Reading

jump back to Cause of death portal. This project is found under the "Cardiac & Vascular Health Issues" heading.

this project is in HistoryLink