Did Lisa Marie Presley Die of a Broken Heart?
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Lisa Marie Presley, the only child of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, died last Thursday of cardiac arrest at the young age of 54 years old. Some fans will say that she was predisposed to heart disease; after all her father died of heart failure. Others will speculate and talk about her history with drugs. But many will bring up Broken Heart Syndrome, that Lisa probably had it following the loss of her son Benjamin in 2020.
What is Broken Heart Syndrome?
Broken heart syndrome is a heart condition that is caused by an intense physical and emotional event, or repeated stressful situations. It is usually a temporary and reversable condition that has been triggered by sudden acute stress. However, in some cases, the condition may reappear, and long-term treatment is recommended. Although usually treatable, it can lead to severe heart muscle failure.
Can Someone Really Die of Broken Heart Syndrome?
In November 2021, the New York Times published the article “The Loss of a Child Takes a Physical Toll on the Heart”. 2https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/23/well/family/death-of-a-child-parents-heart-attack-risk.html The article refers to a study that reveals grieving parents are not only at high risk of a heart attack in the days following the death of a child, but that the increased risk may persist for years.
“Losing a child is one of the most emotionally wrenching experiences a parent can go through. New research suggests it may also literally damage the heart.” As someone who has also lost a son, I truly believe that. It is like a stab in the heart that persists.
The researchers of the study used registries and medical records to study 6.7 million parents from Denmark and Sweden from 1973 to 2014. Among them, 126,522 had lost at least one child at some point during that time. 3https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003790 This is a significant study with amazing data; it is not everyday that we can study 126 thousand grieving parents.
The lead author of the study, Dang Wei affirms that “stress activates the autonomic nervous system”, which controls our body’s involuntary functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. Stress also induces biological changes that may increase cholesterol levels. “Changes like this may trigger a heart attack” he adds. 4https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/23/well/family/death-of-a-child-parents-heart-attack-risk.html
Lisa Marie Presley’s Grief
About five months ago, Lisa wrote an essay for “National Grief Awareness Day” in which she talks about the loss of her son and her grief.
In the 2022 essay, which she shared with People magazine, she says “I’ve dealt with death, grief and loss since the age of nine years old. I’ve had more than anyone’s fair share of it in my lifetime and somehow, I’ve made it this far.” 5https://people.com/music/lisa-marie-presley-was-destroyed-by-son-benjamins-death-grief-essay/
“But this one, the death of my beautiful, beautiful son? The sweetest and most incredible being that I have ever had the privilege of knowing, who made me feel so honoured every single day to be his mother? ..” the essay continued. “No. Just no … no no no no.” 6https://people.com/music/lisa-marie-presley-was-destroyed-by-son-benjamins-death-grief-essay/
Before her Death – at the Golden Globes
Two days before her death, Lisa was at the Golden Globes to celebrate Austin Butler’s award for playing her father in the movie ELVIS. Throughout the evening, she appeared frail, unwell and was seen grabbing a friend’s arm to keep her balance.
Losing a Child Increases Risk of Death for the Parents
It has been well documentented that losing a child, puts parents at increased risk of depression, anxiety, other psychiatric disorders (such as PTSD), physical disability, dementia and death. In addition, the loss of a child increases the risk of poor health behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol abuse and drug abuse that are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
A 2012 study found that “bereaved mothers had a 2.3 times increased risk of dying, with the risk being greatest during the first two years following the death”, in comparison with other mothers. 7https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22809832/ Another study, this one from 2019 and including both sets of parents, states that “parents who had experienced the death of a child had a 32% greater early mortality risk than non-bereaved parents”. 8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6802289/
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References and recommended articles :
“ Mortality in parents after the death of a child” Published in final edited form as: Soc Sci Med. 2019 Oct; 239: 112522. Published online 2019 Aug 28. doi. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6802289/
National Library of Medicine, Javier Espinosa , William N Evans, Maternal bereavement: the heightened mortality of mothers after the death of a child, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22809832/
Death of an offspring and parental risk of ischemic heart diseases: A population-based cohort study : https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003790
New York Times, The Loss of a Child Takes a Physical Toll on the Heart https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/23/well/family/death-of-a-child-parents-heart-attack-risk.html
Cleveland Clinic, Broken Heart Syndrome, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17857-broken-heart-syndrome
American Heart Association, Cardiomyopathy, Is Broken Heart Syndrome Real? https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiomyopathy/what-is-cardiomyopathy-in-adults/is-broken-heart-syndrome-real
Mayo Clinic, Broken Heart Syndrome https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/broken-heart-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20354617
People, Lisa Marie Presley Said She Was ‘Destroyed’ by Son Benjamin’s Death but Kept ‘Going for My Girls’, https://people.com/music/lisa-marie-presley-was-destroyed-by-son-benjamins-death-grief-essay/