Life can be challenging, even overwhelming. A debilitating illness weighs us down. We unexpectedly lose someone we hold dear. Life has a way of stressing us to the limit of our ability to cope.
The National Institute of Health recently reported that more than 60 million Americans seek treatment for anxiety and depression as a result of the mental strain they experience each year. Women in particular seem to be particularly burdened, as more than two-thirds of the visits to doctors and hospitals are made by women.
May is National Women's Health Month, and it's a good time to examine the powerful role that stress can have on our lives and health.
Sometimes hearts get broken. Not just in the usual sense (from a relationship that has gone sour), but hearts can become cracked like a piece of delicate china. Most people have had their hearts deeply hurt in one way or another.
The pain, anguish or heartache can be so shocking that we might feel like giving up on life.
A broken heart could literally kill you, and women might be at the greatest risk.
Medical researchers have recently identified a new illness called the Broken Heart Syndrome. First described in 1991 by Japanese physicians, it's a medical condition that afflicts predominately middle-aged women and leads to symptoms similar to a heart attack.
Women report chest pain, shortness of breath and feelings of severe fatigue. The symptoms are often so frightening they seek medical help. When they arrive at the emergency room, they frequently have an abnormal EKG and might even be suffering with breathlessness and a buildup of fluid in the lungs, consistent with congestive heart failure.
A cardiac catheterization (a special X-ray test to examine the heart arteries) demonstrates that their symptoms aren't from a heart attack — no cholesterol deposits are present — yet their heart muscle is often severely weakened.
Research from Duke University published in the New England Journal of Medicine has demonstrated that excessive levels of stress hormones, particularly adrenaline, are circulating in the blood. Often the adrenaline levels will be three to four times the level commonly seen in a routine heart attack.
Overwhelming stress is believed to be the culprit of this condition, which can markedly reduce the heart's ability to pump blood. Most patients make a full recovery from the illness, but it shouldn't be taken lightly. The Broken Heart Syndrome is changing the way physicians view emotional health.
Scientific research in the last few years has shown that our feelings — particularly negative feelings of fear, anger, grief, loneliness, anxiety and depression — can have a harmful effect on our physical health. They can actually create illness. Being informed and proactive can save your life.
· Your emotional health is important. Don't discount strong feelings of discontent or inner pain.
· Seek medical help if you're under severe stress. Your physician can help decide if your emotional state is severe enough to require the care of a psychologist or psychiatrist.
· Take the time to get more in touch with your own feelings. Simple things like spending 15 minutes each day for personal reflection has helped many people overcome troubling emotional states.
· Recognize that you can improve the way you feel. Research has shown that counseling, meditation, yoga and other self-help practices can have a positive impact on your heart health.
KIRK LAMAN is a board certified cardiologist, author and trainer with a passion for helping people improve their heart health. He's also an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Michigan State University-College of Osteopathic Medicine. Laman will be in Cincinnati leading the "Creating a Heart Centered Life" workshop for people interested in preventing and healing the emotional issues of their heart 10 a.m.-5 p.m. May 24. $149. New Thought Unity Center, 1401 E. McMillan St., Walnut Hills, 513-961-2527. Check out his blog at www.DrKirkLaman.com.