Dying of a broken heart: is it really possible – and how does it happen?
Is there anything more heart-wrenching than the news of someone dying of a broken heart?
Generally speaking, when we hear the term ‘dying of a broken heart’, we associate it with a devastated husband or wife, dying just days after the loss of their long-term partner.
Think Allie and Noah calmly passing to the next world together in The Notebook. A fictional amalgamation of the alleged ‘dying of a broken heart’.
It’s thought that people who die of a broken heart are noted by dying within a short proximity to their loved ones dying. Put simply, it’s thought that they simply give up – refusing to go on without their partner.
But is there truth to it? Can you really die of a broken heart?
It seems the heartbreaking fate isn’t only resigned to fictional characters. Celebrities who are also said to have perished from heartbreak include the late great Debbie Reynolds, who passed away just one week after her daughter Carrie Fisher. It’s also said that when June Carter died, the fact that husband Johnny Cash ended up in hospital just four months later, dying of suspected heart problems, was a sign that he was leaving this world to join his wife.
And there are other real-life, documented cases too. US couple George and Pat Pittman were married for fifty years, after their wedding on Valentines Day in 1959. Reportedly, when Pat became ill and was admitted to hospital, George refused to leave her side. When she reached the point of no return, George said to her “close your eyes, I’m coming with you”. George then passed away himself 21 hours later.
A California couple also seemed to have fallen to the same fate. Don and Maxine Simpson, who had one son and five grandchildren, were together when Maxine passed away. Four hours later, Don passed away too. One of their grandchildren simply explained it by saying, “all Don wanted was to be with his beautiful wife. He adored my grandmother, loved her to the end of the earth”.
So clearly, there is some truth to the concept. But what do the scientists say?
In 2014, research was published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, suggesting that it really can happen. The study found that the number of people who had a heart attack or a stroke in the month after a loved-one died was double that of a group who weren’t grieving.
So while the numbers are small – 50 out of 30,447 in the bereaved group – it seems it is definitely possible!
Similar wide-ranging studies back up this research too. One such was a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which surveyed 373,189 elderly couples in America.
The study concluded that the likelihood of the surviving partner went up significantly if their partner passed away.
‘The death of a spouse, for whatever reason, is a significant threat to health and poses a substantial risk of death by whatever cause,’ the research said.
The science suggests that the shock of having a loved-one die, usually after such a long time, leaves people suffering physical pain due to the stress of the loss. Speculation also suggests that the sudden release of adrenaline can simply cause the heart to fail.
In official terms, this phenomenon is called stress cardiomyopathy. It’s a condition where intense stress can cause intense and severe muscle weakness, leading to incidents such as a stroke or a heart attack. Stress cardiomyopathy is even often referred to as ‘broken heart syndrome’.
Whatever the truth, there’s certainly a bittersweet feeling to the concept. Knowing that a besotted couple have never had to live without each other is surely some comfort.
What do you think? Do you think there’s truth to the idea? Let us know in the comments, or on our Facebook page – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
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