Personal Health

Neuropsychologists Explain Why a Broken Heart Might Really Have Killed Debbie Reynolds

Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, died just one day apart.

Photo Credit: SAG Awards / Twitter

Debbie Reynolds was planning the funeral for her daughter Carrie Fisher at their home in Beverly Hills, California and turned to her son Todd Fisher.

"I want to be with Carrie," Reynolds said, just hours before she suffered a stroke and was rushed to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where she died Wednesday. She was 84. 

While Reynolds had suffered several strokes this year, family sources "believe Carrie's death was too much to bear."

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds had been collaborating on a documentary about their close and often tumultuous relationship titled Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. The HBO documentary chronicled their bond over six decades.

“It’s a love story,” HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins told Variety after the news of Reynolds’ death broke. 

Broken heart syndrome is real, confirmed Prof. Brian Hughes, a specialist in stress psychophysiology.

"There's been a beautiful history that you can die from misery or loneliness or literally from a broken heart," Hughes confirmed. 

"The ancient Greeks and Romans felt that many emotions were reflected in the body and that people with different characteristics and different personality types have different body shapes and body functions," Hughes explained.

"Nowadays we often feel that these notions are myths and superstitions, or in the case of fiction, artistic license. However there's actually a very consistent line of research linking emotional function to the brain and to physical health and disease in the body, and one of the most compelling examples of this relates to cardiovascular function and especially to the notion of cardiovascular stress reactivity," he added.

Broken heart syndrome is the subject of intensive research at the University Hospital of Zurich, which has tracked over 1,000 patients who have suffered from the condition. The hospital maintains the world's largest databank on the topic. Researchers are focusing on the heart-brain connection of patients, and have observed that most sufferers are women over 50.

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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