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Did Grief-Related Stress Contribute to Debbie Reynolds' Death?

Did Grief-Related Stress Contribute to Debbie Reynolds' Death?

Debbie Reynolds (R) and her daughter Carrie Fisher during the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 25, 2015. (Getty Images/Ethan Miller)

By    |   Wednesday, 28 December 2016 10:34 PM

Debbie Reynolds’ death one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died spotlights a rare, but real stress-related cardiovascular condition sometimes called “broken heart syndrome,” top doctors say.

Reynolds, 84, reportedly died of a stroke Wednesday, shortly after her daughter passed away after a heart attack.

Reynolds, the star of the 1952 classic "Singin' in the Rain," was rushed to the hospital Wednesday from a Beverly Hills home owned by her son Todd Fisher and later died. TMZ reported that Reynolds told her son 15 minutes before she had a stroke that she was having a hard time dealing with Carrie's death.

Renowned cardiologist Dr. Chauncey Crandall tells Newsmax Health it’s not unusual for loved ones – most often long-married couples – to die within days of one another from cardiovascular problems.

"You could call it broken heart syndrome, but you could also call it high emotional stress,” says Crandall, chief of the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and author of the Heart Health Report newsletter.

“We see this all the time, when a spouse dies, the other is at high risk. It's less common when it's an adult child but it happens, as Debbie Reynolds' death shows."

The grief of losing a loved affects not just emotional and mental health, but physical health as well. Numerous studies show that the surviving spouse or partner is likely to develop health problems in the weeks and months that follow a husband’s or wife’s death.

Although the phenomenon is most common in married couples, it can also happen to other family members or even very close lifelong friends.

A 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that individuals who had lost a loved were more likely to have a heart attack or stroke within the next 30 days.

In fact, the researchers found the risk of having a cardiovascular event was doubled — from eight of every 10,000 individuals whose loved ones were were still alive to 16 of every 10,000 among those whose close relatives had died.

The reason: Emotional stress can wreak havoc with the sympathetic nervous system and cause stress-induced changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and blood clotting.

In addition, the researchers noted the people in the study were ages 60 to 89, an age group that is more prone to heart attack and stroke. What’s more, there is a tendency after such a profound loss for the surviving loved one to disregard his or her own health and become resigned to dying.

“There is a real disease called ‘broken heart syndrome,’ ” notes North Carolina-based cardiologist Dr. Kevin Campbell. “There is a heart-brain connection during acute stress, such as death of a loved one, that plays a role in this unusual but very tangible health threat.”

Campbell notes that when we are under extreme stress our bodies naturally release stress hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol into the blood stream. These hormones were important for the survival of early man, initiating the “fight or flight” response by stimulating the nervous system.

In response to stress hormones our heart rate increases, our breathing increases and blood is sent to the skeletal muscles in preparation for battle. But in modern times that mechanism places enormous stress on the cardiovascular system that can be life threatening.

Dr. Tracy Stevens, a cardiologist specializing in women’s heart health and spokesperson for the American Heart Association, tells Newsmax that scientists don’t know why, but women fall victim to the syndrome more often than men.

It’s possible the gender difference suggests it may have a hormonal component.

“Women have estrogen in their heart and blood vessels and may process adrenalin differently than men,” she says. “Women handle stress differently too. When men sit down and relax, their heart rate lowers and they truly relax. When women sit down, their minds are still going on that hamster wheel and their pulse doesn’t lower in the same way as men.”

Treatment for the condition (if caught early enough) usually involves medicines — such as beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors — that are given initially to help the heart pump more efficiently and promote remodeling of the heart muscle.

New research, based on a recent study conducted at New York University Langone Medical Center, is looking into preventative measures using yoga, breathing, and other relaxation techniques to calm down the body’s parasympathetic nervous system to avoid an episode of broken heart syndrome.

Reynolds’ reported suffered multiple strokes this year, which may have also increased her risk.
Carrie Fisher died Tuesday, four days after going into cardiac arrest on a flight from London to Los Angeles.

She was the daughter of Reynolds and the late crooner Eddie Fisher.

In a November interview with for the NPR show "Fresh Air," Carrie Fisher noted her famous mother had suffered some recent health setbacks.

"She's an immensely powerful woman, and I just admire my mother very much," Carrie Fisher said. "There's very few women from her generation who worked like that, who just kept a career going all her life, and raised children, and had horrible relationships, and lost all her money, and got it back again. I mean, she's had an amazing life, and she's someone to admire."

Reynolds and Fisher appear together in a documentary – ''Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher" – set to air on HBO in early 2017.

Charlotte Libov and Lynn Allison contributed to his report.

© 2020 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.

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Debbie Reynolds' death one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died spotlights a rare, but real stress-related cardiovascular condition sometimes that can cause a heart attack or stroke in a surviving relative. Reynolds, 84, reportedly died of a stroke Wednesday.
debbie, reyholds, death, grief, stress, stroke, carrie, fisher
Wednesday, 28 December 2016 10:34 PM
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