Tag Archives: Johns Hopkins

Can A ‘Relationship Breakup’ Cause Actual Heart Damage?

A New Study Says, “YES.”

There’s a saying that no one ever died from a broken heart, but findings from a new study at Johns Hopkins (published in The New England Journal of Medicine) suggest it can do a lot more damage than you think.

The clinical research showed that some people may respond to sudden, overwhelming emotional stress such as unexpected breakup or severe grief by releasing large amounts of “catecholamines” into the blood stream, along with their breakdown products and the small proteins produced by an over-excited nervous system. These chemicals can be temporarily toxic to the heart, effectively stunning the muscle and producing symptoms similar to a typical heart attack, including chest pain, fluid in the lungs, shortness of breath and heart failure.

In other words, these broken heart syndrome (BHS) symptoms can cause a seemingly healthy heart to stop working normally–all due to the emotional stress brought on by something like an unexpected breakup. The physical symptoms of depressed patients, have experienced after a breakup or divorce include loss of appetite, inability to sleep, tightening in the chest, and nausea; while emotional problems include everything from depression to uncontrolled crying and loss of self-esteem.

Doctors estimate 1 to 2 percent of patients who are diagnosed with a heart attack in the U.S. are actually suffering broken heart syndrome. The vast majority of sufferers are “women” (studies suggest that 90 to 95 percent of patients are female).

If identified quickly and treated appropriately, BHS can resolve in a few days and leave the patient with no lasting physical damage.

Emotionally, though, the stress of a breakup may linger. Some tips on how to minimize stress and keep your body and mind in balance as you go through a breakup or divorce include:

  • Stay active and try to maintain a balance of a healthy diet with equal amounts of sleep and exercise.
  • Talking about the heartbreak can sometimes speed the recovery process. Many people seek out a therapist; however, talking to others going through similar situations can help.
  • Try not to isolate yourself. Use this time to expand your horizons.
  • Engage in social activities with friends and family in order to keep your mind off your loss and to focus on moving on with your life.
  • Allow time to heal the wounds. While there’s no set formula to how long it takes to get over a heartbreak. Everyone has the potential to bounce back to life and move forward.

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Relationship Advice: Breaking Up Hurts For Real And How To Recover Faster

In studies of life’s most stressful events, being divorced or break up is the number two top life stressor, following right behind number one, being widowed. Both can plunge you into severe depression and health problems. Breakup of a significant relationship or marriage creates a panic response in the brain and such stress in the body that neuroscientists believe it can lead to a lowered immune system and illnesses. If you fall into either of these categories, you absolutely need to take care of yourself and do all the activities we discuss.

Women who hadn’t gotten over a relationship by 16 weeks after the breakup had decreased brain activity in the regions associated with emotion, motivation and attention. This is a physical change in the brain. That’s why it is so hard to concentrate on anything-so hard to get up and go. Do not let yourself go this length of time without intervention.

Researchers at UCLA have pinpointed the part of the brain that registers the pain of a break-up. Being rejected activates one of the same areas of the brain as physical pain! In the study, the more ignored the people felt, the more activity they had in the anterior cingulate, which also registers physical distress. So your pain is physiological.

Other researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have found that a breakup can create physical heart pain and shortness of breath. They call it Broken Heart Syndrome and, of course, it affects more women than men. Emotional stress or rage can actually precipitate a heart attack, so on this one you need to get it medically checked out.

Relationship Advice: Getting Over the Heartbreak Faster

Getting over heartbreak isn’t easy but there are definitely some clinically proven methods to beat the blues. There are five recovery methods I recommend: sharing; meditation; sleep; exercise; and, having imaginary conversations with the ex. In one study, talking about their negative feelings lessened the participant’s activity in the pain-feeling part of the brain. Among the recommendations coming out of the UCLA study is that a good remedy for heartache is to spend time sharing with close friends, because this activity causes the brain to release natural opioids, which are like the painkillers found in opium. So make a beeline for your friends, a sponsor, a minister or someone else you confide in.

A second group of recovery methods recommended by the Johns Hopkins researchers emphasizes practicing relaxation techniques, including meditation, deep breathing or journaling out your feelings.

Sleep is very important to helping immune function but with the depressive reactions that many have, sleep may be hard to come by. This is another reason to consider starting a regular relaxation or meditation program-these have been shown to help people sleep better. Also, working out at the gym may help, because it releases opioids.

One final way to beat the blues comes from a study that showed that people who had imaginary conversations and then said goodbye to their partner had more relief from grief than those who didn’t. Here is one imaginary conversation that Darlene, had with her very narcissistic ex:

“You are so classically narcissistic! You only think of yourself. You sucked me in at first with all this generosity, but once you had me, you only took, took, took. And you were the one who abandoned the relationship, even though I bent over backward for you, you jerk! Withdrawing slowly from me to the point where there was nothing left. You stonewalling jerk! Even though you were the one withdrawing, you provoked me into ending it by actually going on Match and chatting online in the same room as me! How humiliating! And now I hear you are happy. It makes me so upset! You never deserved me and I hope in your next relationships you’ll get exactly what you dealt out–a lot of bullshit in a charming voice. You wasted my time and my life these past 2 years. I fell for it, I didn’t self-protect, I was too anxious to be in a relationship and I ignored the signs. I wanted someone else to do the hard work for me. Well, I have learned that I have to do it. I will watch out for myself. I will speak up for myself!”

Airing these pent-up issues and feelings helped Darlene let go and later she moved forward into a relationship with a terrific guy she met at church. Similarly allowing yourself to be with and process your own thoughts and feelings, no matter how painful they are will also allow you to move beyond them and the guy who triggered it all.

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