Heartache and Heart Attacks
In today's pill-for-everything world, doctors and patients alike seem to be losing sight of the connection between emotional well-being and health. Nowadays, prescription drugs are relied upon to fill emotional voids instead of friends, lovers, spouses, and family members Either that, or "therapy," which is in many cases nothing more than simply paying someone to give the kind of attention and emotional involvement all humans crave - and that we need in order to survive. But this, like medication, is a poor substitute for good old-fashioned love and friendship.
I've written about this kind of thing before (Daily Dose, 5/25/04, 3/19/04 and others), usually from a perspective of how fulfilling social interactions and loving relationships can have a positive affect on the heart - especially among men. According to past studies I've referenced, healthy emotional involvement can contribute to a 50% decrease in heart disease risk for men (this is more effective than any prescription drug has proven to be, by the way), as well as halving the likelihood of second heart attacks among both sexes.
But I digress
My main point is that health, especially of the heart, is profoundly affected by emotion. And a new study shows that severe emotional trauma can cause temporary symptoms that are nearly identical to a heart attack, including shortness of breath, chest pains, and fluid in the lungs. These effects have been known to last several days, but resolve fully over time. Further, these symptoms are often assumed to be heart attacks, and many times no doubt lead to NEEDLESS HEART SURGERY.
The research, conducted by Johns Hopkins University physicians and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, catalogued for the first time this condition - which many doctors have known about, but have never officially documented. Differing from acute stress cardiomyopathy (actual heart attack or sudden death triggered by emotional trauma) only in the sense that it is not lethal or permanently damaging to the heart, the newly named Broken Heart Syndrome causes a surge in adrenaline and stress hormones that mimic heart attacks, possibly by constricting blood vessels in the heart.
The study focused on 19 emergency department patients who suffered major emotional trauma, including the death of a spouse or immediate family member, armed robbery, a car wreck, a court appearance, or a surprise party. Their MRI scans revealed no signs of actual heart attack, yet the subjects experienced very real, measurable symptoms of cardiac distress. It just goes to show how closely linked our minds and hearts really are.
And in case you still don't believe in things like dying of a broken heart
The disease everyone knows about but the doctors
I'm not much for psychobabble, but every once in a while, the shrinks get one right. Case in point: A contingent of European psychologists are attempting to revive one of the oldest diagnoses in history: Lovesickness.
Though known to most everyone - including just about every playwright and novelist in history - by its symptoms, "lovesickness" nevertheless enjoys no formal acceptance in the medical literature of the day. Never mind that according to a recent BBC article, the condition was officially recognized as a perfectly diagnosable state of mind for thousands of years before the Enlightenment.
Proclaiming that one CAN die of a broken heart (especially in cases of unrequited love), these head-doctors are urging heart doctors to take more seriously the symptoms of lovesickness: Despair, insomnia, tearfulness, depression, and physical exhaustion. Apparently, it can kill those who succumb to it - and not just by way of suicide (although that's quite common with the lovelorn, the data shows).
It's a well-known medical phenomenon (ask any insurance actuary) that when one partner in a long-time married couple dies, the other often follows into the great beyond a short time later - even if there are no life-threatening health problems present. Laymen and playwrights call it "losing the will to live."
But MDs don't call it much of anything - they can't prescribe a drug for it, so it must not exist