Curtis: Death Due to a Broken Heart is a Real Occurrence

Updated January 9, 2017

Anne B. Curtis, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor; Charles and Mary Bauer Professor and chair of medicine, was asked about broken heart syndrome after actress Debbie Reynolds died one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher.

One form of the phenomenon is called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, after the Japanese term for “octopus trap,” because the left ventricle takes on a shape resembling a fishing pot. The sudden flood of stress hormones causes a temporary weakening of the heart muscle itself, unlike a classic heart attack, in which a clot blocks blood flow.

Curtis says she has seen estimates that about 1 percent of perceived heart attacks are because of broken heart syndrome.

“That seems about right. I think every cardiologist has seen cases. We tell people that many will return to normal or near-normal heart function.”