10 February 2005

It's True, You Can Really Break Someone's Heart...

The concept of being "heartbroken" is no longer confined to the realms of love stories and love poems as a recent study shows that an intense emotional stress --- extreme sadness or happiness, anger or hate, even too much fear of something --- can damage the human heart literally, and send you rushing to the emergency room for help.

Tragedy Really Can Break
Your Heart, Doctors Say
By Rob Stein, Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2005

As Valentine's Day approaches, scientists have confirmed the lament of countless love sonnets and romance novels: People really can die of a broken heart, and the researchers now think they know why.

A traumatic breakup, the death of loved one, or even the shock of a surprise party can unleash a flood of stress hormones that can stun the heart, causing sudden, life-threatening heart spasms in otherwise healthy people, they reported today.

The phenomenon can trigger what seems like a classic heart attack and can put victims at risk for potentially severe complications and even death, the researchers found. With proper care, however, doctors can mend the physical aspect of a "broken heart" and avoid long-term damage.

"When you think about people who have died of 'a broken heart,' there are probably several ways that can happen," said Ilan Wittstein of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, whose findings appear in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine. "A broken heart can kill you, and this may be one way."

No one knows how often it happens, but the researchers suspect it's more frequent than most doctors realize --- primarily among older women --- and is usually mistaken for a traditional heart attack.

[Washington Post]

Read the full text of the study here.

The researchers aren't too sure of the exact mechanism on how the "broken-heart syndrome" takes place, but they were able to observe high levels of adrenaline and stress-related neuropeptides which they speculate might be responsible for the "myocardial stunning."

Ischemia due to epicardial coronary artery spasm and microvascular spasm are among the theories proposed by the authors as possible causes of having the "broken-heart syndrome."

The authors also can't explain why almost all of those who suffered the "broken-heart syndrome" were women...although they suggested a possible "biologic susceptibility" as shown by increased sensitivity to the stress-induced rise of adrenalin.

Ilan Wittstein of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who did the study said:
"Our hypothesis is that massive amounts of these stress hormones can go right to the heart and produce a stunning of the heart muscle that causes this temporary dysfunction resembling a heart attack," Wittstein said.

"It doesn't kill the heart muscle like a typical heart attack, but it renders it helpless."

[Washington Post]

We have been warned.

Let's do our best not to break somebody's heart, ok?

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