Papa Bush may be suffering from ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’

April 26, 2018

George H.W. Bush is now reported to be awake, alert and talking at Houston Methodist Hospital following an emergency admission on April 22 for an infection that had rapidly turned into a life-threatening case of sepsis. The 41st president fell seriously ill just one day after the funeral of his wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush. Doctors have said that they are treating two major problems—the acute infection, as well as what is known as Broken Heart Syndrome or Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy.

Indeed, grief over the loss of a cherished loved one can, literally, break a person’s heart, based on results of medical studies conducted in the United States, Japan, and in the United Kingdom.

In 1993, the Harvard Medical Society began a nine-year study of such anguish-related cardiac failures.  Over the course of the study, 518,240 couples participated. In that time, 730,749 people were hospitalized at least once due to the disease, and the disease led to the deaths of 408,561 study participants.

Clinicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston agree that, during the first 24 hours following the death of a loved one, a person’s risk of experiencing a heart attack increases by about 21 times. What’s more, they have found that the risk of heart attack remains eight times above normal during the first week after the loss of a loved one

To study the effects of bereavement and grief on the heart, the Beth Israel researchers interviewed approximately 2,000 patients who suffered heart attacks over a five-year period, LiveScience reported in 2012. Patients answered questions about events that potentially could potentially trigger a heart attack, such as losing someone close to them within the past year. For those who experienced a heightened risk following the death of a loved one, the researchers concluded that sorrow may have played a role in their heart disease.

“Some people would say a ‘broken heart’ related to the grief response is what leads to these physiologic changes,” said study researcher Murray Mittleman, director of BIDMC’s Cardiovascular Epidemiological Research Program. “So, that emotional sense of the broken heart may actually lead to damage leading to a heart attack and a physical broken heart of a sort.”

Many attribute the death of performer Debbie Reynolds in 2016 to Broken Heart Syndrome, because it occurred while she was grieving the passing of her daughter, Carrie Fisher, which had occurred one day earlier, on a flight from London.

Indeed, more than 90% of reported cases are in women ages 58 to 75, according to the Harvard researchers. The data suggest that up to 5% of women evaluated for a heart attack actually have this disorder, which has only recently been reported in the United States and may go largely unrecognized.

Finally, current figures  reported by The Guardian suggest that, in the United Kingdom, about 2% of the 300,000 heart attacks that are suffered each year are,l in fact, cases of Broken Heart Syndrome.

Dr Alexander Lyon,  a consultant cardiologist at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London , suggests that many people may be dying suddenly of the condition before arriving at a hospital, without an accurate diagnosis ever being made either pre- or post-mortem. Dying of a broken heart, therefore, may be much more common than imagined.

The news is not all bad, however: If the Broken Heart Syndrome is caught in time, most people recover rapidly with no long-term heart damage.

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