Most have read the typical paperback novel of two individuals passionately falling for one another ending in a happily ever after or a broken heart. As for the latter, some are mentally, emotionally and physically able to mend their wound and continue on with life. Others may appear “healed” only to suffer internally or find themselves at the other end of the spectrum struggling with loss or even despair.
To some extent, humans are capable in determining their outcomes. Take for example stress. Does your genetic code promote you the ability to overcome or be an eternal “stuffer?” Race, genetics and age are embedded within while diet, physical activity and smoking preference are somewhat within our control.
Stress can be defined as a normal response to what makes makes us feel threatened or out of balance. Stress can be protective to our bodies as it sharpens our mind for a presentation, concentration, or extra strength to defend ourselves. Beyond a certain point, stress can be harmful. Long-term effects range from an increase in blood pressure, immune suppression, anxiety/depression, weight problems and many others including heart disease.
I was lucky to have worked in an all-women’s cardiac rehabilitation study. There were 400+ women who signed-on and shared what they thought was one common trait, a cardiac event. The purpose of the study was to show the effects of an “innovative” cardiac rehabilitation program (highlighting the physical and psychosocial functioning) in comparison to traditional cardiac rehabilitation (physical/cardiac functioning). We met women from all walks of life. One participant’s story will forever be fixed in my mind.
A young (early 30’s) attractive female entered the study whose cardiac event changed her life and ours. She was a wife, mother and a “stuffer.” Prior to her cardiac event, she found herself wrapped up in the preparation of Christmas for her family. She began to experience chest pain which waxed and waned for some time. 911 was phoned with an ambulance ready to assist her to the hospital. This young go-getter told the paramedics she would walk herself to the ambulance as this pain was probably “stress related.” Upon reaching the doors, she went unresponsive. The paramedics performed CPR, attached an automatic external defibrillator (AED) which sent electrical impulses to her heart and she was revived. This happened 3-4 more times before reaching the hospital!
Fast forward one month and she was on the heart transplant list. She participated in the women’s study and received heart-health education, relaxation techniques, counseling, ECG-monitored exercise sessions, nutrition and stress management. All of which transformed her physical and emotional being for the positive.
These women discovered heart disease was not their only commonality rather, being female and over-stressed.
What we don’t realize is the impact stress has on our body, in particular, our cardiovascular system. Broken Heart Syndrome exists. According to John’s Hopkins Heart and Vascular Institute, “Broken Heart Syndrome is synonymous with stress cardiomyopathy. Intense emotional or physical stress can cause rapid and severe heart muscle weakness (cardiomyopathy). This can occur following a variety of emotional stressors such as grief, fear, extreme anger and surprise or following numerous physical stressors ie, stroke, asthma” (www.hopkinsmedicine.org).
Broken Heart Syndrome is a new term gaining more recognition and it is important to know most cases appear in women in their 50-60’s. Studies showed most did not have a prior cardiac history and were without blockages or blood clots, which is the case in heart attacks.
Fortunately for those with this syndrome, prognosis is good as their heart cells are able to heal from the attack of adrenaline and noradrenaline which “rush-in” during stressful events.
For more information on heart disease and stress speak with your physician and check out these sites: