Health and the broken heart

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February 10, 2012

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I’m sitting here on Valentine’s Day with a dull day-long itinerary full of work, but the second I clock out, I have a romantic evening awaiting me in my apartment: spending time with me, myself and I and an extensive Ryan Gosling movie marathon.

I’m not too torn up over the fact I won’t be spending my night with someone better (because let’s face it, there really is no one better than Ryan Gosling) or that there isn’t someone who both holds my heart and has given me theirs to spend the fluffy, candy-coated holiday with.

But I do remember the times I have been torn up about it. Hell, I’d even wager I have felt nearly heartbroken over the situation.

There was the time when my crush in the third grade didn’t accept my handmade Valentine’s Day card or when my boyfriend in the tenth grade broke up with me three days before our big Valentine’s Day date that I had spent weeks both planning and looking forward to it.

Whenever I hear my friends telling me they have a broken heart, I silently scoff at the idea. You’re going to tell me that you are so upset, so sad, so distraught over someone or something that your heart has taken full control over your body and left you incapacitated?

As it turns out, I should have been the one scoffed at.

According to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2005, injuries – and even deaths – underwent a high level of evaluation and scrutiny when a total of 19 different patients (the majority older women) developed symptoms similar to a heart attack almost immediately following a bout of severe emotional stress.

The puzzling thing about these patients’ cases, however, was that once they were evaluated, their doctors found no signs of symptoms related to heart disease usually present in those who suffer from heart attacks.

The doctors evaluating the cases were inclined to believe that all the patients suffered from heart attacks because their electrocardiography (EKG) levels and blood work were abnormal, but there was no evidence of any blockage within their arteries.

Since this study, more patients appeared with similar symptoms, having weakened hearts and clear arteries. The confusion continued as the results revealed that the levels of the patients’ stress hormones were consistently elevating and interfering with normal blood flows, a major reason why their hearts were becoming weaker. The degrees of damage on the patients’ bodies consist of chest pain, fluid entering the lungs, irregular heartbeat and short, sharp breathing. These copy cat heart attacks are otherwise known as stress cardiomyopathy or broken heart syndrome.

Broken heart syndrome, as defined by www.mayoclinic.com, is when a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the remaining parts of your heart can either function normally or start acting with even more forceful contractions. This condition can be triggered by news of a loved one’s death, abuse, loss, physical stressors such as accidents and trauma caused by break ups.

“That makes perfect sense,” says sophomore Sophia Colmenarez, agreeing with the triggers of broken heart syndrome and the condition itself. “I remember having a difficult time when my first boyfriend in high school broke up with me. It wasn’t like we were in love or anything, it was probably only infatuation at most, but it still hurt. It wasn’t the kind of gut-wrenching, pain-crippling pain that loss from love seems to create in the movies, and I’m also not the type of person to wallow in my self-pity, but there were days I did just want to stay home and do nothing but lay in my bed. I believe humans are meant to be social beings. When you create a strong dependency on another person or thing and then it’s taken from you, I think the depression from the break caused by that kind of loneliness can lead to physical injuries and maybe even death.”

Fortunately, once the syndrome has been diagnosed and treated, most patients will successfully recover.

The confusion around why broken heart syndrome develops in people to begin with is still prevalent. Many believe genetics play a role in the condition. Broken heart syndrome is most commonly found among postmenopausal women, which may suggest that their decline in estrogen levels play a factor in their condition, as stated later in The New England Journal of Medicine.

“I feel like it’s mostly a mental thing,” Colmenarez says, “The brain is a powerful muscle and our hearts are equally as strong; when the two of them work together, people underestimate how much their collaboration can affect their bodies.”


Health and the broken heart was published on February 10, 2012 in Sports & Health

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