Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tips for Broken Heart Syndrome

Profound emotional sadness doesn't just weigh heavy on your mind. It significantly impacts your body. The depths of despair can lower your immune system, increase blood pressure and heart rate - and cause significant muscle weakness, just to name a few. Stress from grief can flood the body with hormones, specifically Cortisol, which causes that heavy-achy-feeling you get in your chest area.

The heartache that comes with depression can increase the likelihood of a heart attack. In fact, a recent study showed that a person with a depressive disorder and a heart condition were 5 times more likely to die than a person with depression alone or a heart condition alone. The actual medical term for this deeply emotional mind/body experience is called Stress Cardiomyopathy. You might know the colloquial term better: A broken heart. What you might not know is that women are ten times more likely to suffer from Broken Heart Syndrome than men.

I've had a broken heart several times in my life. Not only did my depressive symptoms worsen during these very sad moments, I also noticed a heaviness in my chest and an irregular heartbeat. Sometimes it fluttered, while other times it felt as if it stopped or skipped a beat. A thorough medical work-up showed that I had an arrhythymia. Now on a beta blocker, I no longer experience the depth of my depression in my heart.

Experience is a great teacher. What I learned from those bouts of grief was that I needed to listen to what my body was telling me and to look at emotional issues more quickly than I had done in the past.

Tips for Broken Heart Syndrome

If you have heartache and you're in despair consider these tips:

  1. Don't hold in your emotional pain. Studies show that expressing emotions greatly reduces the body's stress response.
  2. Don't put a time limit on your grief. And don't let others set one for you either.
  3. Make sure you tend to your physical needs. Softness, warmth and touch can be healing.
  4. Don't ignore chronic aches or pains. Check in with your physician.
  5. Eat well, making sure you choose healthy foods to keep you nourished during difficult times.
  6. Keep a routine sleep schedule. If you require medication to help you with sleeping, modulating your moods or for cardiac management, don't feel ashamed. You're going through a significantly stressful time.
  7. A broken heart leaves many people feeling stunned and stuck. Move. Get out of bed. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Feel the sun on your face.
  8. If you feel fragile, limit your exposure to emotionally driven events. That doesn't mean to cocoon yourself away from people. Decide what social connections will give you support, and which ones may be too taxing.
  9. Don't forget your spiritual side. Prayer, even meditation if you're not one for religion, can bring comfort to a broken heart.
  10. Consider seeking a mental health professional if you need help healing from your broken heart.


Von said...

Good advice Deb. What's your view on the grief adoptees suffer when they loose their mothers? Broken Heart?

Sarebear said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jumpinginpuddles said...

i work in a nursing home and i know when partners lose each other in true love their life diminishes fast.

as an adoptee i havent ever felt grief over not having my birth mother but i was curious until met them and then that stopped.

Dr. Deb said...

If an adoptee experiences a sense of grief, it could be experienced as many things, including broken heart.

It is amazing to learn that occurs so swiftly. I can totally see that happening.

Faycin A Croud said...

I've had a broken heart several times. I was always told to just "suck it up," "get over it," and "get on with life," as well as "stop whining" and "stop looking for attention."
Have you heard of Takotsubo syndrome? It is a condition where stress impacts the heart in such a way that it causes temporary congestive heart failure. I've feared developing it, I've been under such stress for so long.

Dr. Deb said...


Takotsubo syndrome is another name for Broken Heart syndrome.

BTW, I *HATE* when people, professionals included, tell others to suck it up or to tough it out. They are SO wrong about that.

Raine said...

I had chest pains after I lost my partner... this is an interesting post

Ann O'Dyne said...

A friend tells me - "my broken heart has caused fibromyalgia, and while I am not sad depressed, I have no interest in tomorrow. I cruise the supermarket aisles and cannot get interested in the food, so I leave with hardly anything (nuts and yogurt).
I had 3 children with the love of my life, who did not want the first two and they were relinquished. He left me after 23 years together and now I cannot bear to see the 3rd child who just reminds me of him."
I wonder if beta blockers would help my friend regain her joie de vivre.

mrwriteon said...

Your advice is so apt, Deb. That is really a keeper. Of course, there is an assumption that we get over a broken heart. I don't think we really do. We just learn to adjust and move on. Mine always remains, hiding around the corner. Especially if I see the person in question.

TK Kerouac said...

the physical and emotional pain of a broken heart can be unbearable.
I had a friend jump into the frigid lake in Feb(high suicide month) because of a broken heart

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