Check Up : Can you die from a broken heart?

May 17, 2017

Dear Readers,

Audrie, who is 22, is still recovering from the passing of both her grandparents in 2016, just three months apart.

Audrie says she still cries much over her grandmother's death as her grandmother was fairly well at age 86, but "just pined away after grandpa died from pneumonia and wouldn't eat".

She asks Check Up, why is it so hard to overcome a loved ones death to the point of dying yourself?

Check Up has heard of this occurring at intervals over the years, usually between married couples and even seen in animals.

Bereavement can have a tremendously negative impact on the immune systems of older people, and this is thought to be one reason why an elderly partner dies soon after the passing of their loved one.

Components (neutrophils) which protect the body against infections and other serious illnesses are weakened during the grief period when someone mourns the passing of a loved one.

This effect is mainly seen in people over 65. The neutrophil is a white blood cell which helps prevent invasion of bacteria into the body organs and tissues which can result in serious illness, such as pneumonia.

During the terrible months when deep grieving occurs, neutrophil function can be significantly reduced and the body becomes vulnerable to infections.

Grief also disrupts the balance between two significant hormones, Cortisol and DHEAS (dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate) which are involved in coping with stress. The imbalance occurs mainly in older people and affects the ability to ward off illness and infections.

Another related condition called Takosubo cardiomyopathy, also known as the 'Broken hearted syndrome', has been researched in recent years.

It usually follows a traumatic emotional loss, such as the death of a close partner, child, or parent. It most often affects females and causes chest pain and sudden heart failure brought on by surging levels of the 'fight or flight' stress hormones.

If individuals suffer this syndrome and survive it does not usually recur. What do all these researched facts tell us? The answer is yes, it is possible to die from a broken heart!




In the end, what we must recall is that every loss is different and we all grieve differently. Grieving is very painful and the grieving person requires a great deal of support from close friends and other family members who may be grieving themselves.

No one can tell how long the grieving process will last but factors which affect the intensity and length of grieving include the relationship to the departed individual, the circumstances of death and the person's own life experiences. The grief experience is different after a long illness than after sudden unexpected death.

What we can do for our elderly family members who lose their life partner, or for any grieving relative or friend, is to spend a great deal of time with them supporting them with our physical presence and making sure that they are receiving adequate nutrition, fluids and vitamins such as vitamin B complex, vitamin B1 and 6, vitamin C, vitamin A.

Temporary anti-anxiety medications may also be useful and require prescription from a physician. Stay on board with them after the funeral when many other people stop calling.

Consider bereavement counselling for them, to help them cope and move on with their lives from a calamity which they may view as worse than their own deaths!

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