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'You Can Actually Die Of A Broken Heart,' Medical Experts Say

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Could the shock of suddenly losing her daughter, Carrie Fisher, have triggered Debbie Reynolds' deadly stroke?

Turns out, severe emotional shock can actually spark what's become known as "broken heart syndrome," CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported.

She was America's sweetheart, dancing her way into hearts. But could it have been a broken heart that felled the unsinkable Molly Brown?

"You can actually die of a broken heart," Dr. Harmony Reynolds, of NYU Langone Medical Center, said.

Photos: Debbie Reynolds And Carrie Fisher Through The Years

Dr. Reynolds has studied something called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, which is medical language for broken heart syndrome. She said the sudden death of her daughter, could have caused the legendary actress' death.

"We think in broken heart syndrome it may be a real surge of adrenaline that is toxic to the heart muscle itself, or perhaps that's mediated in other ways, or the arteries going into spasm," she said. "The heart muscle in large parts doesn't move as well as it's supposed to and it feels like a heart attack, looks like a heart attack to doctors, and it is a form of heart attack."

However, Reynolds' son has said that his mother suffered a stroke.

While we don't know the exact cause of death, Dr. Reynolds said a lay person can mistake a heart attack for a stroke, or a severe emotional shock could actually lead to a stroke in ways not related to broken heart syndrome.

"We would expect that a severe emotional stress could raise the blood pressure very high. That could cause a problem with the brain and could lead to a stroke directly, or it could cause heart strain and lead to heart attack because of the very high blood pressure," she said.

While there's no way to avoid the blows that are often part of life, Dr. Reynolds said that controlling your cardiovascular risk factors like stress, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, weight and smoking, may give you enough resilience to survive severe emotional shocks.

Women often suffer different heart attack symptoms than men. They don't necessarily have crushing chest pain. Instead, it could be subtle back, neck, jaw even tooth pain, or what feels like indigestion, nausea and sweating.

Gomez said the lesson is: If you don't feel right, go to the hospital.

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