Nightly News | September 24, 2012
>>> a family obituary in the new york times announcing the death of the mother of kristi brinkley said her heart never survived losing her husband, who died before her by seven weeks. that is very common after the death of a long-time spouse. but is that worse than a medical condition , and could it be fatal as it often appears to be? our report from our chief medical expert, nancy snyderman .
>> reporter: you're constantly waiting for somebody to come out and talk to you, the stress hormones are off the charts.
>> i thought it was doing fine and handling it very well.
>> but she wasn't.
>> reporter: i remember coming, and standing by the nurse's station, talking to someone. and as i was talking -- i said wow, i really feel dizzy, and remember grabbing onto a counter and just trying to hold on for support. and at that moment, a black cloud , a curtain just came over my eyes, shaking, it was the last thing i remember.
>> cindy was in full cardiac arrest, suffering from broken hard syndrome . 90% of the patients who experience it are over the age of 55.
>> reporter: we think as women age, their hearts and small blood vessels around their hearts become more reactive to the stress hormones , so stress you may experience at 25, when the estrogen levels are higher, could be different.
>> this sent a signal to her glands, unleashing the surge to her blood stream , rushing to her heart. it paralyzed part of it, caused it to balloon out like this, and then shut down.
>> reporter: there are cases of people dying from this condition, and when i'm asked can you die from a broken heart ? we say absolutely yes, you can.
>> cindy and joel both recovered, and now celebrating life 's simple pleasures have taken on new meaning.
>> reporter: you don't sweat the small stuff . you live to enjoy life.
>> enjoy each other, we're grateful for every moment we have is.
>> this is not a heart attack , but the symptoms are like one. heart attacks are caused by blockages, this is simply a case of the heart being stunned by all the chemicals rushing to it. it is a temporary problem and the heart usually recovers completely if it is recognized in time, brian. the important thing is to recognize it. and i think they're under-recognized in the country.
>> one of the true enduring medical mysteries.