A broken heart may have sent former President George H.W. Bush to the hospital on Sunday.
Bush, who is 93, was hospitalized for an infection just one day after his wife Barbara was laid to rest. He is currently recovering in intensive care.
The timing of the hospitalization led many to suspect that the grief was too much for the former president. And according to medical experts, that may be the case.
Bush 41 could have “broken heart” syndrome
According to experts, “broken heart syndrome,” or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, isn’t just a figure of speech — it’s actually a real condition. While the timing between sudden loss and “broken heart” symptoms may sometimes be a coincidence, experts agree that the stress of grief affects the immune system and can be life-threatening under certain conditions.
Some studies have even found that sudden loss can be fatal for surviving partners, as the stress inflicted by deep loss can weaken the immune system, exacerbating existing health problems and sometimes causing heart attacks. The body’s stress responses proceeds in stages: first comes “alarm,” when the body releases fight-or-flight chemicals that can damage the body; then a rallying stage, where the body marshals its defenses to fight the stress; and lastly, fatigue, which can send the body’s defenses collapsing.
But New York University (NYU) cardiologist Harmony Reynolds said that while some instances of “broken heart syndrome” are fatal, most people survive the condition. She likened the syndrome to a system shock that causes symptoms similar to a heart attack, including chest pain, abnormal EKGs, and malfunctioning heart muscles.
The adrenaline rush stage of the stress reaction might be behind the symptoms of “broken heart” syndrome, according to Reynolds.
“We think it may have something to do with an extreme adrenaline rush, and our research at NYU has focused on how the body can rein in an adrenaline surge,” Reynolds said. “We wonder if people who have this problem could have a difficulty reining in an adrenaline surge on a physical level.”
Extreme stress a possible cause
Whether or not his broken heart is the cause of his hospitalization is up for debate, but the former president long has struggled with other health problems, including a type of Parkinson’s. He has also been hospitalized for pneumonia in the past.
Bush was most recently hospitalized the day after his wife’s funeral on Sunday to treat an infection “that spread to his blood,” though the former president is reportedly recovering.
Meanwhile, Bush’s chief of staff, Jean Becker, said the 41st president has been understandably “brokenhearted” by his wife’s passing. Barbara Bush was buried at George H.W. Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX on Saturday.
“So many of you are asking, ‘How is 41?’ He, of course, is brokenhearted to lose his beloved Barbara, his wife of 73 years,” Becker wrote in a statement. “He held her hand all day today and was at her side when [she] left this good earth.”
The Bush family needs all the prayers we can muster during this difficult time.