Tag Archives: Linked

Improved Mental Health Tied to Quitting Smoking

In a new study from Washington University, researchers find that quitting smoking does more than improve physical health as stopping the habit also improves mental health.

Typically, health professionals who treat people with psychiatric problems often overlook their patients’ smoking habits, assuming it’s best to tackle depression, anxiety, or substance abuse problems first.

However, the new study shows that people who struggle with mood problems, or addiction can safely quit smoking and that kicking the habit is associated with improved mental health.

The study is published online in the journal Psychological Medicine.

“Clinicians tend to treat the depression, alcohol dependence or drug problem first and allow patients to ‘self-medicate’ with cigarettes if necessary,” said lead investigator Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, Ph.D.

“The assumption is that psychiatric problems are more challenging to treat and that quitting smoking may interfere with treatment.”

In the study, Cavazos-Rehg discovered that quitting, or significantly cutting back on cigarette smoking was linked to improved mental health outcomes.

Specifically, quitting altogether or reducing by half the number of cigarettes smoked daily was associated with lower risk for mood disorders like depression, as well as a lower likelihood of alcohol and drug problems.

“We don’t know if their mental health improves first and then they are more motivated to quit smoking or if quitting smoking leads to an improvement in mental health,” Cavazos-Rehg said.

“But either way, our findings show a strong link between quitting and a better psychiatric outlook.”

Naturally, the serious health risks associated with smoking make it important for doctors to work with their patients to quit, regardless of other psychiatric problems.

“About half of all smokers die from emphysema, cancer, or other problems related to smoking, so we need to remember that as complicated as it can be to treat mental health issues, smoking cigarettes also causes very serious illnesses that can lead to death,” she said.

Researchers analyzed questionnaires gathered as part of the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

This survey was administered in the early 2000’s and just under 35,000 people were surveyed. As part of the study, participants answered questions about drinking, smoking, and mental health in two interviews conducted three years apart.

The researchers focused on data from 4,800 daily smokers. Those who had an addiction or other psychiatric problems at the time of the first survey were less likely to have those same problems three years later if they had quit smoking.

And those who hadn’t had psychiatric problems at the initial survey were less likely to develop those problems later if they already had quit.

At the time of the first interview, about 40 percent of daily smokers suffered mood or anxiety disorders or had a history of these problems. In addition, about 50 percent of daily smokers had alcohol problems, and some 24 percent had drug problems.

Forty-two percent of those who had continued smoking during the years between the two surveys suffered mood disorders, compared with 29 percent of those who quit smoking.

Alcohol problems affected 18 percent of those who had quit smoking versus 28 percent who had continued smoking.

And drug abuse problems affected only 5 percent of those who had quit smoking compared with 16 percent of those who had continued smoking.

“We really need to spread the word and encourage doctors and patients to tackle these problems,” Cavazos-Rehg said.

“When a patient is ready to focus on other mental health issues, it may be an ideal time to address smoking cessation, too.”

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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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