Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Can a broken heart kill you?
Can people really die due to a broken heart? Sounds melodramatic, but a new study from Johns Hopkins University suggests that this situation can indeed be fatal. In their study of hospital patients, researchers found that emotionally traumatic incidents—like losing someone you love—can cause a surge in the body’s levels of stress hormones called catecholamines, which, when broken down, can produce chemicals that are toxic to the heart. The result: A health problem called broken-heart syndrome, which, in severe cases, can lead to heart failure.“At least five of the patients we studied would have died had they not sought treatment,” says researcher Ilan Wittstein, M.D., a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins. But relax: Not everyone who’s been dealt a bad blow by Cupid needs to rush to the emergency room. Heartache that’s truly hospital-worthy will bring on symptoms typical to a classic heart attack: You may have difficulty breathing, and feel pain in your chest or radiating down your left arm, says Wittstein. In other words, if you’re sitting there bawling on the phone to a friend or mowing through a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, your ticker’s probably in top form.Still, if you’re in a tailspin over lost love (even if it’s not of potentially lethal proportions), there are things you can do to protect your health. Typical anxiety-reducing activities like exercise can help; you could also consider what we like to call “interval grieving,” where you give yourself 30 minutes once or twice a day to dwell on your breakup, vowing to move on to fun distractions (even if that’s just a Friends rerun) after the allotted time is up, suggests Holly Pedersen, Ph.D, a licensed marriage and family therapist and president of Talk Works. Finally, even if you’ve been dumped dramatically, it never hurts to remind yourself that there are upsides to being single, so write down three or more things you’re glad you can do, like “finally I can walk through an art museum at my own pace” or “now I can sleep on the whole bed rather than half of it, and hog the covers.”Judy Dutton is the project editor for Happen magazine. In the past, she’s found Chunky Monkey is the best way to get over a bad breakup.