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Heartbreak and the risk of cardiovascular disease

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Heartbreak is a severe emotional injury that stems from the extreme disappointment a person feels at losing a person they dearly love, whatever the reason may be.
  • Heartbreak usually leaves people feeling sad and disappointed. If they are unable to recover and accept what has happened to them, it could eventually cause “broken heart syndrome,” a condition that causes an acute reduction in the heart’s functioning capabilities.
  • Symptoms of broken heart syndrome are similar to those of ischemic heart disease, namely a sudden pain in the center of the chest, faintness, a drop in blood pressure, arrhythmia and breathing difficulties.

 

Heartbreak and the risk of cardiovascular disease

Heartbreak refers to an emotional experience that most of us are likely to encounter at some point in our lives. The length of time that a person suffers from a broken heart and the behaviors they exhibit after such a break depend entirely on that individual’s experience. Let’s take a good look at which type of heartbreaks are most likely to place us at risk of developing a cardiovascular condition, and which of those could impact our health in other ways.

The comfort eaters

These people turn to food in order to relieve the stress or disappointment they feel, with no consideration given to whether that food is healthy or not. Although the early symptoms of heartbreak may cause us to lose our appetite altogether, this could soon turn into an insatiable appetite that often causes people to eat until they feel fit to burst, putting on weight in the process. This occurs because our bodies increase the production of cortisol – the “stress hormone” – during times of stress. As cortisol levels increase, so too do our insulin levels, which results in us wanting to eat more sweet foods than usual. Furthermore, some comfort eaters also struggle to get enough sleep which, in turn, causes increased production of ghrelin – a “hunger hormone” – leaving us with an abnormally large appetite for sugary, fatty or salty foods. If we are unable to manage our appetite and fail to exercise regularly, obesity is sure to follow. Obesity causes chronic inflammation, placing us at risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

The drinkers

Should this group of people suffer a heartbreak, they are likely to pick up the phone and call their friends, inviting them out for a night on the town, “drinking today so that they can be forgotten about tomorrow.” The alcohol contained in drinks is ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, a processed chemical produced by fermenting rice, wheat, barley or fruit. The alcohol content in most beers is around 5%, while wines are about 12% and spirits are approximately 40%. Alcohol directly affects the central nervous system. Thoughts, emotions and feelings are all impacted by alcoholic drinks which, if consumed in large quantities, can lead to drowsiness or a loss of control. However, should alcohol be consumed in moderation, it has the potential to improve our mood.

When people drink in moderation, studies have found that it can actually be slightly beneficial to heart health. Research carried out by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA, revealed that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol each day, meaning 2 glasses for men and 1 glass for women, resulted in cardiovascular disease survival rates that were up to 25 – 40% higher than in those who did not drink. According to the researchers, the reason for this was that drinking in moderation could increase the presence of HDLs, or good fats, in the bloodstream. However, for people who drank more than the recommended amounts, the effects were completely detrimental to health. This is because prolonged exposure to alcohol results in heightened triglyceride levels, causing blood to thicken and placing the person at risk of developing thrombosis throughout the body’s arterial system, especially around the heart and brain. Moreover, heightened triglyceride levels resulting from prolonged alcohol abuse actually cause a reduction in the levels of HDL cholesterol (good fats), placing the drinker at risk of developing coronary heart disease and pancreatitis. For this reason, anyone prone to bouts of drinking as a form of dealing with their problems should give careful consideration to its long-term effects on their heart health.

The criers

As soon as they are told that the relationship is over, this group experiences an extreme emotional reaction that causes them to cry uncontrollably. Some continue to cry for days on end, while others may feel down for months afterwards. If the situation does not improve, these people are ultimately at greater risk of suffering from broken heart syndrome than others because of their inability to accept their circumstances.

Stress-induced cardiomyopathy, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or Apical ballooning syndrome are all medical terms used to describe broken heart syndrome, which is what happens when the heart suddenly experiences a reduction in stroke function. The true causes are hotly debated but most of those in the medical profession consider its causes to be rooted in the hormone catecholamine, which is severely elevated during times of depression or stress, which in turn has an effect on the health of the coronary arteries.

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome

The most common symptom is a sudden, severe pain in the sternum that may last for minutes or hours, similar to the effects of ischemic heart disease. Faintness, a drop in blood pressure, arrhythmia and difficulty breathing are also symptoms associated with broken heart syndrome, making the condition indistinguishable from an acute myocardial infarction until a coronary angiogram can be carried out. Only around 1% of patients suspected of suffering a myocardial infarction do so as a result of stress-induced cardiomyopathy, with studies finding that 90% of those patients are women, while 80% of that number are post-menopausal. The most commonly affected age group is 58–77, meaning that people of this age who cannot accept the circumstances surrounding a heartbreak should do their utmost not to fall into a sustained period of mourning as this could lead to increased heart disease risk.

The busy ones

Despite feeling heartbroken, this group of people will usually move onto the next person as soon as possible, because they constantly need company or distraction. Some will find this distraction in nightlife, or by seeking out someone new to chat with and alleviate their loneliness, or by looking for a no-strings-attached conquest to spend the night with, which can all go a long way toward helping them get over the person they recently lost. Although the people in this group are not as at risk of developing broken heart syndrome, many of them often contract a sexually transmitted disease due to not taking appropriate precautions and changing sexual partners with regularity, People in this group, therefore, should be sure to take special care in their activities.

The chilled-out ones

These are the ones who only feel heartbroken or cry for a short time. They may turn their attention to spiritual endeavors such as meditation, or find time to spend with their true friends who will undoubtedly help them see the problem from a different, clearer perspective and help them get over their heartbreak. Some will have experienced multiple prior heartbreaks, which ultimately helps them see the light at the end of the tunnel, accepting what has happened with good grace. They understand that this current heartbreak, too, shall pass, and it is this clarity of thought which aids them in staying free from the risk of potential health disorders that may otherwise result from a heartbreak.

Caring for yourself when experiencing a heartbreak

In addition to the mental anguish caused by heartbreak, suffering to the extent that significant amounts of stress are allowed to accumulate could have long-term effects, including a heightened risk of developing a number of health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. For this reason, finding ways to alleviate that stress is an essential part of any break-up.

  • Try to find the source of your stress before seeking a resolution.
  • Sever any ties with the person who made you feel this way, freeing yourself from focusing on the past so that you may move forward.
  • Get into a regular exercise regime as a form of distraction (regular meaning at least 30 minutes per session, no fewer than 5 days a week).
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet, avoiding alcoholic and caffeinated beverages.
  • Organize regular meetings with friends for a chat that could help you get any issues off your chest (if your friends are willing to listen).
  • Make sure your surroundings are warm and welcoming, for instance, rearranging your household furniture or work desk to increase relaxation, as well as growing home plants or gardening to help you feel refreshed.
  • Get into watching funny movies or reading exciting books.
  • Do not close yourself off from people, as there will come a day when your heart will need to be open in order to welcome in a new person.

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