Experts: You Can Die from a Broken Heart

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,” 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 post-menopausal women, which has baffled scientists.

Dr Lyon’s theory is that it is the post-menopausal 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. Paramedics who reached her suspected it was ­actually a heart attack and she also ended up at St Mary’s on the same day as Daphne.

And the results were the same — no sign of a heart attack.

Gail says: “Doctors told me it was a rare thing to happen and there was no damage to my heart.

“However, I was told it was the shock and panic of needing the toilet desperately that brought on such a strong reaction.”

Fortunately, survival rates for those diagnosed with the condition and who are discharged from hospital is roughly 100%.

Trauma specialist Dr Massimo Stocchi, who works on Harley Street, says: “There’s no doubt that a trauma or shock can make the strangest things happen.

“It impacts on your emotions and your physical wellbeing. There’s even evidence that emotional stress can bring on cancer.

“But there are definitely cases where people like Lindsay Clift give up on life.

“In fact, my late uncle was so shocked when he found out his wife was having an affair, he told my mother he wished he was dead — and he died the next day.”

So how does shock, both physical and psychological, actually impact on the body?

“A shock can have a physical effect on the body and when there are two emotions in conflict, the brain doesn’t know which one to go with,” says hypnotherapist Richard ­Osterfield,

“It’s known as the “˜udin’ moment, which means the shock is unexplained, dramatic, isolating and there’s no coping strategy in place.

“If someone has a shock, then the body can react by manifesting itself in big, emotional problems such as OCD, bipolar and depression.”

For mum-of-three Inderjit Malhi, the shock of finding out her husband of seven weeks had been killed in a car accident had more consequences.

His death was 20 years ago but even now, aged 41, she believes she never fully dealt with the impact of his death.

Immediately afterwards she slipped into a world of obsessive compulsive disorder, cleaning everything in the house three times over and insisting her family get changed and showered whenever they entered the house.

“It sounds crazy,” says Inderjit, from Leicester. “Everything spiralled out of control after I lost Surjit.

“I was pregnant at the time and miscarried shortly after. I was four weeks’ pregnant and at the time I didn’t understand what had happened, but now I can see it was my body’s reaction to the shock.”

To help deal with her loss, Inderjit, then 20, went travelling — visiting Surjit’s family in the Punjab region of India and married his younger brother Charna.

The couple have a son, Manvir, now 18, and twin daughters Suky and Simran, 16.

Nevertheless, Inderjit is still suffering from the loss of her first husband.

She says. “When my children were babies, they were almost ­completely confined to the house ­because I was paranoid about them getting dirty outside.

“If we did venture out, I’d bath them when we got home and change all their clothes. I would be up into the early hours cleaning.”

Her OCD became so bad that three years ago she took a second overdose believing Charna, a haulage business owner, and her children would be better off without her.

Eventually, she sought help from Richard Osterfield after finding him on the internet.

He helped her discover her OCD was largely due to the sudden loss of Surjit and trying to regain control over her life.

“I understand now why I developed OCD thanks to counselling.

“The reason I kept such a close eye on the children was because I needed to protect them. When Surjit died, I couldn’t protect him, it was out of my control.

“At home I was able to control everything and that was my response to the shock of him dying. I also believe that the shock caused me to miscarry.

“Thankfully,after three years of therapy, I can lead a normal life.”

What is Shock?
There are different forms of shock — psychological shock and physiological shock.

Psychological shock can occur after a physically or emotionally traumatic experience but it affects your state of mind. It can cause palpitations and faintness, but it doesn’t usually lead to serious physical collapse.

Physiological shock is a dramatic reduction in blood flow that, if left untreated, can lead to collapse, coma and even death.


Psychological shock can be caused by hearing bad news, such as the death of a loved one, being involved in a traumatic event, such as an accident or being the victim of crime.

Mild shocks leave you feeling stunned for a while, absorbed in your thoughts and unable to focus on anything else. After a while, though, the brain gets the event in perspective and normal life  can resume.

If the shock is more profound, some people find it harder to return to normal, and may develop post-traumatic stress disorder. This is usually characterised by an event being constantly replayed in the mind, or a person retreating from normal activities. A sufferer may also be prone to irritable behaviour.

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