- Cynthia Day, a 49-year-old American tourist, died at a Dominican Republic resort. A health official said it may have been from the shock of finding her fiancé dead nearby.
- Stress cardiomyopathy is a heart-attack-like condition caused by a surge of adrenaline that can be deadly, although most people recover with no permanent damage.
- The condition predominantly affects women between the ages of 58 to 75. Other factors, such as existing neurological and psychiatric disorders, can increase the risk.
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In May an American tourist, 49-year-old Cynthia Day, was found dead beneath the bed covers in her room at a Dominican Republic resort. Her fiancé, Edward Nathaniel Holmes, 63, was found dead on the floor beside her. The Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Public Health spokesman Carlos Suero told Fox News the shock of seeing Holmes’ body “probably” caused Day’s death.
While the exact cause of death is still under investigation (police are calling it “respiratory failure” in the meantime), it’s true that in certain cases, shock, fear, or extreme grief can be fatal. INSIDER also previously reported that health officials said that Holmes, Day’s fiancé, died first.
Stress cardiomyopathy is similar in some ways to a heart attack
Stress cardiomyopathy mimics symptoms of a heart attack, and can be just as deadly, according to a Harvard Health Blog post by Dr. Deepak Bhatt, cardiologist and editor at Harvard Medical School’s publishing division. The condition is also called “takotsubo cardiomyopathy,” so named by the Japanese doctors who discovered it because the ballooning of the heart’s left ventricle resembles a takotsubo, an octopus trap.
“Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a recently recognised condition that is difficult to diagnose and treat,” Dr. Antonio Abbate, a cardiology professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and co-author of a new study on stress cardiomyopathy, said in a press release.
While a typical heart attack kills cells due to blocked arteries, the rush of hormones behind stress cardiomyopathy is believed to “stun” the cells, temporarily inhibiting function. This reaction can cause fatal complications if the heart can’t keep up with blood flow and pressure builds, forcing fluid through capillary walls and into the air sacs of the lungs.
Autopsies of both Day and her fiancé found pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs.
Stress cardiomyopathy can be caused by any intense emotion
The death of a loved one is one example of a situation that can cause cardiomyopathy. Others include a serious medical diagnosis, loss of a job, divorce, domestic abuse, and assault, according to the article by Dr. Abbate and his colleague, psychiatrist Dr. F. Gerard Moeller. Physical stressors like a car accident or major surgery are also common triggers for the condition.
“We don’t really understand the actual brain mechanism, but the brain response to intense emotion leads the sympathetic nervous system to release hormones to the heart,” Dr. Moeller told INSIDER.
“It usually happens with 24 hours of a severe stressor, such as someone close to you dying,” he added. “It’s not the standard stress that you have every day, or at work.”
Even positive events, such as winning the lottery, being the star of a surprise party, and celebrating the victory of a favourite sports team have been known to cause stress cardiomyopathy. This is referred to as “happy heart syndrome.”
Some medications have also been found to correlate with stress cardiomyopathy, according to the Mayo Clinic. The medications are typically associated with an increase in stress hormones and include epinephrine, which is used to treat severe allergic reactions; duloxetine and venlafaxine, which are both used to treat depression; and levothyroxin, a thyroid medication.
Women are nine times more likely to fall victim to stress cardiomyopathy than men, particularly as they age – 90% of cases occurred among women aged 58 to 75, according to a 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. More than half of all patients with stress cardiomyopathy also had a history of a neurological or psychiatric disorder such as epilepsy, head injury, depression, or anxiety.
It’s unclear what Day’s medical history was or what her symptoms were prior to her death, but INSIDER previously that medications for blood pressure were found in the couple’s hotel room.
A majority of patients recover from broken heart syndrome within days or weeks, with no permanent damage
With immediate medical care – which usually includes medications to lower blood pressure and slow heart rate to help reduce the pressure on the heart – broken heart syndrome doesn’t have to be fatal. In fact, a study of 24,701 cardiomyopathy patients found that less than 5% of cases were fatal, and the vast majority of those who died had “underlying critical illnesses.”
Unlike a heart attack, stress cardiomyopathy only temporarily disrupts the heart and, in most cases, does not cause permanent damage. After the initial symptoms are treated, most patients return to normal heart function within 14 days with no complications, according to an online Q&A with Dr. Milena Gebska of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Recurrence of stress cardiomyopathy is rare, affecting about 5% to 10% of patients after recovery.
- Read more:
- A Dominican Republic health official said any tie between the spate of recent tourist deaths is ‘fake news’
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