We’ve talked about the Arginine Paradox, the Obesity Paradox, and today we’re talking the Broken Heart Syndrome. We’ve learned throughout time that there are certain preventable risk factors for heart disease; stress being a big one. Stress does amazing things to the body, and not in any good way. Now, researchers are beginning to look deeper into the stress that comes from a ‘broken heart,’ and how that stress can impact our heart health.
Stress and Heart Health
Stress is a normal, everyday aspect of life. The issues of stress as related to heart health don’t come into play until that stress becomes extreme or chronic. In these cases, where stress has been chronic for many months, or has been extreme and beyond what the body is use to, heart health becomes a factor.
According to WebMD, stress can lead to emotional, psychological, and even physical problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, chest pains, or irregular heart beats. And according to The American Institute of Stress, the incidence of heart attacks and sudden death have been shown to increase significantly following the acute stress of natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis and as a consequence of any severe stressor that evokes “fight or flight” responses.
Stress is an interesting aspect of life, one that in many cases cannot be avoided, and yet one that can be successfully managed to the point of near prevention. Those living with chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, RSD or arthritis understand as well as those living with cardiovascular diseases just how important maintaining stress levels is. As stress increases for these individuals, so does their pain levels and risk for another heart attack.
Technically speaking, stress increases adrenaline and cortisol levels in the body, which under normal circumstances is not necessarily a bad thing. However, under extreme or chronic stress, persistently elevated levels of these hormones can be unhealthy and detrimental to the body’s immune system. There have also been many studies pointing to a link between increased stress levels and changes in the way that blood clots, also leading to an increased risk for heart disease.
Broken Heart Syndrome
Broken heart syndrome is exactly what it seems to be, a syndrome that occurs during overly emotional experiences. Researchers at the University of Arkansas have recently found that women, who are also at a greater risk for chronic pain conditions, are at least seven times more likely to suffer from broken heart syndrome than men.
Broken heart syndrome can happen in response to shocking or suddenly emotional events — both positive ones like winning the lottery, or negative ones like a car accident or the unexpected death of a loved one. A flood of stress hormones and adrenaline causes part of the heart to enlarge temporarily and triggers symptoms that can look like heart attack: chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heart rhythm. The difference is that the factors that would normally cause heart attack, such as a blocked artery, aren’t present. (Healthland.Time.com)
Overall, the study found that women had “about 7.5 times the risk of broken heart syndrome as men.” And while researchers are not entirely sure why there is such a dramatic difference in numbers, one theory is that hormones play a role. Another, according to the Associated Press, is that men have more adrenaline receptors on cells in their hearts than women do, “so maybe men are able to handle stress better” and the chemical surge it releases.