Can You Really Die from a Broken Heart? SUDDEN INTENSE EMOTIONS LIKE GRIEF, PANIC OR EVEN HAPPINESS CAN SHOCK YOUR BODY INTO A FATAL HEART CONDITION, SCIENTISTS NOW BELIEVE. KIRSTY ENGLISH REPORTS
Byline: KIRSTY ENGLISH
Mobile hairdresser Lindsay Clift had always dreamt of becoming a mother so when she discovered she was pregnant, she and her husband Darren couldn't wait for the birth of their first child - a daughter they had already named Katy May.
But when Lindsay, 29, went 12 days overdue, doctors at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton induced labour only to discover the tot had died in the womb.
Five hours after delivering the baby and cradling it in her arms, Lindsay lost consciousness and passed away.
"There was no reason to think anything would go wrong. She walked in there fit and healthy.
"In my view she was so heartbroken that she wanted to be with the baby," y," says her widow, Darren, 41.
Dying of a broken heart might sound like the stuff of Hollywood movies, but Darren was probably right. According to experts, the shock of losing her baby could have led to her sudden death effectively due to a broken heart.
Dr Alexander Lyon, a senior lecturer at London's Imperial College and consultant cardiologist at the Royal Brompton Hospital, says this may have been a case of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a condition also known as broken heart syndrome when triggered by bereavement.
It affects an estimated 3,000 people a year in the UK and Dr Lyon has set up a clinic to care for people with this newly recognised condition and collect more data. Current figures suggest that around 2% of the 300,000 'heart attacks' each year will, in fact, be broken heart syndrome.
So what exactly is this potentially fatal heart condition?
"Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a temporary condition where your heart muscle becomes suddenly paralysed and the left ventricle, one of the heart's chambers, changes shape. Usually the paralysis recovers, but occasionally stress can lead to a cardiac arrest during the acute episode, due to a disturbance in the heart's intrinsic electrical activity," says Dr Lyon.
"With no other cause of death known at the moment, it is conceivable that Lindsay experienced a huge adrenaline surge with her episode of emotional stress, which led to cardiac arrest."
Dr Lyon believes the same could be true of Marcus Ringrose, 60, who died hours after the funeral of his wife of 34 years, the actress Mary Tamm, 62.
Mary, most famous for her role in Doctor Who as the Doctor's companion, Romana in the 70s, passed away in July after an 18-month battle with cancer. Previously 'fit and well', an inquest held two weeks ago found grieving Mr Ringrose had died of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome - caused by a disturbance in the heart's rhythm, which can be triggered by emotional events.
"Given the absence of coronary artery disease, the likelihood is that this was also a stress-induced sudden death due to high levels of adrenaline and this is a form of broken heart syndrome," Dr Lyon says.
Although called Broken Heart Syndrome, it can also be caused by unexpected happiness, such as winning the lottery, and not just grief.
And research shows that about 90% of diagnosed cases are in postmenopausal women, which has baffled scientists.
Dr Lyon's theory is that it is the postmenopausal
drop in hormones which, prior to the menopause, protect women from huge stresses.
"These women have had a drop in oestrogen levels so a sudden surge of stress hormones and adrenaline creates a perfect storm of risk," says Dr Lyon.
Gail Harris, 63, and Daphne Smoker, 74 became friends after suffering Takotsubo cardiomyopathy on the same day.
Daphne, from Leighton Buzzard, Buckinghamshire collapsed after suffering a massive coughing fit while playing golf, but when she was taken to St Mary's Hospital in London having a suspected heart attack, they found no evidence of one. Similarly, Gail, a former beauty consultant from Guildford in Surrey, had a sudden attack of IBS while stuck in traffic on the M25. …