Tag Archives: Adrenaline

Dumped? How To Heal The Health Effects Of A Broken Heart?

Romantic rejection can manifest in various forms of physical anguish, researchers find.

Got a stomach ache? A headache? Insomnia? Your health issues may be related to your recent romantic rejection.

When 23-year old Emmie Scott, a direct marketer in Richmond, Va., and her boyfriend/co-worker broke up and still had to endure seeing each other daily, Scott suffered a broken heart—literally. “The most uncomfortable symptom I experienced is the sensation that someone was sitting on my chest—a combination of both pain and pressure that’s left more than one of my friends commenting that my heart must actually be broken.”

Researchers now understand that romantic rejection triggers change in our brains that affect our health. Edward Smith, a Columbia University psychologist, and a team of colleagues found that intense emotional pain can activate the same neural pathways as physical pain. Seems being jilted can hurt in a primitive physical way as if you’ve been sucker-punched by a welterweight.

What’s more, that physical pain can manifest in surprising ways. Aside from chest pain, you may get hit with a kick-butt cold or flu, develop insomnia, or a range of gastro symptoms from loss of appetite to diarrhea. The precise health wallop you suffer may have to do with how your body manifests stress. Asthmatic? You could have an asthma attack. Suffer from a skin condition like eczema or psoriasis? Your skin will likely flare up. Have irritable bowel syndrome? Prepare to hit the restroom.

“While in college I found out my boyfriend (and high school sweetheart) was cheating on me. Although only 110 pounds, I dropped almost 15 and broke out with a case of shingles, which required a week of prednisone to calm,” says Christina Stoever Young, 40, producer of a historic haunted walking tour in Truckee, Calif.

Here, the top health complaints stemming from heartache:

• Complaint: Heart pressure or pain, palpitations, abnormal heart rhythms.

Why: When the stress response is triggered by a breakup or divorce, the body sends out a massive flooding of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. “Anytime your adrenaline levels are higher, you’re more vulnerable to faster heart rate, palpitations, and certain arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms, as well as skipped beats, lightheadedness, feeling your chest pounding, and a fluttering feeling in your neck,” says Dr. John M. Kennedy, a Marina Del Ray cardiologist and co-author of “The 15 Minute Heart Cure: The Natural Way to Release Stress and Heal Your Heart in Just Minutes a Day.”

Women heart patients facing severe stress from marriage difficulties were found to have three times the risk of heart attack as women without such stress. Worse, there’s a syndrome that mimics heart attack called Takotsuba syndrome, or broken heart syndrome, in which an EKG, chest X-ray, and blood work all indicate a heart attack. But when a cardiologist goes inside the heart searching for the culprit blocked artery, the arteries are wide open. The stress response simulates heart attack symptoms. “A broken heart syndrome is an extreme form of what heartache can do to our bodies,” says Kennedy. While it can be lethal, the heart muscle usually recovers within six months.

What helps: Anything that relieves stress helps prevent these heart problems during relationship troubles: exercise, yoga, meditation, relaxing through breathing or visualization, even short term anti-anxiety medication.

• Complaint: Cold or flu.

Why: These same stress hormones torch your immune system leaving you vulnerable to rogue bacteria and viruses. “Normally when you’re confronted with bacteria or virus, your body will mount a defense,” says Dr. Valerie Scott, a board certified family doctor in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. Post break up, however, your immune system is weakened and those defenses aren’t unable to ward off illness.

What helps: Managing your stress improves your immune system. Exercise, eat well, take a multi-vitamin, especially the B-complex vitamins, which boost immunity, rest enough and decompress with music, comedy or friends to counteract the flood of stress hormones.

• Complaint: Gastro upset (stomach pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea,).

Why: The excess cortisol shooting into your system during your break up diverts blood away from your digestive track, leaving you with GI unpleasantness–that ‘can’t eat for weeks, sour stomach, run to the bathroom feeling you get when your relationship tanks.

What helps: Try over-the-counter meds for your queasy stomach. In one study, researchers simulated rejection in the lab and found that aspirin alleviates the painful feelings triggered by being rebuffed. While it seems skeptical, it’s worth a try, as is curbing your desire to veg on the couch. Exercise prompts your brain to release uplifting endorphins that will settle your stomach. What’s more, misery loves company. “You want to surround yourself with family and friends and supportive people because it’s easy to get depressed,” says Kennedy, which may worsen symptoms. Camaraderie can stimulate a much-needed dose of missing oxytocin, a feel-contented hormone.

• Complaint: Insomnia.

Why: Sleeping patterns, not unlike eating patterns, become skewed during relationship demise. Some people want to stay in bed all day — while others can’t seem to sleep at all. Science really doesn’t understand why it happens, but it’s likely due to racing thoughts, the ‘he-said, she-said’ reenactment of the break up plays out mentally while at rest. Plus, stress hormones, still at their peak, may wreck your circadian rhythms and internal clock.

What helps: Stay active enough so your body will reach the reparative deep levels of sleep it needs, but don’t push yourself to exhaustion, which backfires. Exercise, but avoid it after 9 pm, since it could cause insomnia. Skip caffeine after 3 in the afternoon for the same reason. Turn off TV, computer and cell phone at least an hour before bed and embrace a relaxing sleep routine: low lighting, candles, and a warm bath. “Once you calm that stress response, all of these medical things resolve and get better,” says Scott.

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Breaking Up Can Literally Break Your Heart

The word “heartbreak” is bandied about so much we often forget that physical heart pain is a side effect of high-stress events.

Along with depression and loss of appetite, physical heart pain is an actual side effect of high-stress events like the loss of loved ones. The grief from a breakup or death can be so consuming that it’s actually heart wrenching and can have serious consequences for our physical health, too.

The ‘Physical Effects’ of a ‘Broken Heart’:

Anyone who has experienced real heartbreak knows that it’s not just a melodramatic term. The aching, tight feeling that accompanies such sadness is uncomfortable, but usually not disconcerting. However, for people with broken heart syndrome, it feels scarily similar to a heart attack — in fact, most people are diagnosed after being taken to the emergency room.

Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress cardiomyopathy, is a sudden weakness in the heart muscle due to a severely stressful situation. It has the same symptoms as a heart attack — difficulty breathing, chest pain, and a drop in blood pressure — but while a heart attack permanently damages the heart, broken heart syndrome’s effects are temporary. Also, heart attacks are caused by blocked coronary arteries; people can experience stress cardiomyopathy without existing blockages. This important difference is often how doctors determine one from the other.

In 2005, researchers at John Hopkins University discovered the distinction when they studied the hearts of patients dealing with deaths of family members, car accidents, financial woes, and other anxiety triggers. They postulated that being under such stress causes the brain to release a constant stream of stress hormones like adrenaline into the blood, which makes heart vessels work too hard and reduces pumping strength. However, this is but one theory — doctors are still trying to determine exactly why adrenaline surges affect heart muscle cells the same way that heart attacks do.

The syndrome might be serious like a heart attack, but luckily it’s a temporary condition that can be cleared up in about a week with proper medical care. Mostly people just need time to recover from whatever physical or emotional event shocked their systems enough to cause cardiomyopathy. Even seemingly innocent things like surprise parties and public speaking can spark heart problems; many patients don’t have preexisting heart conditions, so it is difficult to tell who is at risk for the syndrome. For reasons still unknown, it does occur more frequently in women than men, particularly postmenopausal women.

Toxic Relationships Can Be Deadly, Too.

Suffering through a traumatic event like a breakup isn’t the only way to weaken our hearts — staying in a toxic relationship can be just as detrimental. It’s no secret that negative relationships, whether platonic or romantic, can have negative effects on our physical well-being. Emotional stress puts added pressure on our bodies, which weakens our immune systems and increases depressive episodes. In 2007, a study conducted at University College London found that people in bad relationships — characterized by a lack of support and a constant source of stress — had a 34 percent higher chance of having heart problems in the future compared to those in positive couplings.

The study followed 8,000 subjects, initially heart disease free, over a twelve-year period. At the end of the study, 589 people had developed heart disease and those who previously reported relationship strife, especially the ones who felt that talking with their companions about problems made things even worse, had a higher occurrence of the disease. We’ve always known that fighting with loved ones is a sure source of heartache, and now we know it’s a potential contributor to heart disease as well.

Our Loved Ones’ Deaths Can Lead to Our Own.

Grief over someone’s death, particularly when it’s someone as close as a mother or father, can be debilitating and excruciatingly painful. Depression and weight loss often stem from such loss, but now there’s evidence suggesting that it can even result in death. A 2008 study led by Ivan Mendoza, MD found that in 102 reported cases of sudden death, thirteen of them happened on the anniversary of the day that their parents died. Out of this group, one third of them died around the same age that their parents did. But unlike broken heart syndrome, sudden death resulting from grief occurred more among men than women in this study and the majority of cases had underlying coronary heart disease.

This isn’t the first time that grief and death have been linked. A psychiatrist named George L. Engel wrote a paper in 1971 detailing numerous cases of people who died soon after a loved one. We’ve all heard similar tales of people dying unexpectedly just a few weeks or months after their partners, as if they couldn’t imagine going on without them.

We’re inundated with the different habits we should adopt to keep our hearts in tip-top shape, like eating well and exercising, but getting out of bad relationships and dealing with loss in healthy ways aren’t usually on those lists — even though they can potentially cause physiologic harm. Perhaps as more studies like these come out, people will realize just how important it is to strive for emotional as well as physical well-being. They’re inextricably connected, even if more significance is put on one over the other. The effects of a breakup or death can be crippling and we should recognize that. Metaphorical heartbreak is painful enough as it is.

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