World Heart Day 2022: Being dumped by your partner or experiencing sudden demise of a loved one could trigger heart attack-like symptoms in people, say experts, but the condition isn't fatal and one recovers eventually. Known as broken heart syndrome, people experience chest pain or tightness, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, palpitations, nausea and weakness - all the symptoms that resemble a heart attack. When a person experiences acute stress, their stress hormones surge and the heart muscles are unable to cope with this excess and sudden amount of adrenaline. The stress hormone can also narrow your arteries and cause a decreased blood flow to heart. But this impact on heart gets better and the heart recovers fully in a couple of days. (Also read: World Heart Day 2022: Foods to eat and avoid for better heart health)
Dr Trideep Choudhury, Consultant Psychiatrist, Department of Mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Flt. Lt. Rajan Dhall Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi says that a person may show physical symptoms due to excessive stress during a life-changing event or breakup or rejection.
"Heart break or breakup can hurt quite a bit more so if it is initiated by the other side. It can give rise to feelings of abandonment and rejection. As a result the person experiences profound disappointment, stress and grief. Besides these negative feelings arising because of the primary issue of break up, one may be stressed because of the secondary consequences like disruption in routine and responsibilities along with scarred relationship with family or extended family. All these primary and secondary factors of stress can increase the stress hormones called catecholamines like adrenaline and noredrenaline which increase the heart rate and may be problematic in persons with pre existing heart diseases. The person may show physical symptoms due to increased stress," says Dr Choudhury.
"When people say that "love hurts", there is actually a heart condition known as broken heart syndrome and it can cause severe chest pain after breakup or loss of a loved one. Broken Heart Syndrome is caused due to extreme physical or emotional stress due to loss of a loved one, breakup, divorce, separation, betrayal or romantic rejection. The symptoms of this illness are common to heart attack like Chest pain/ tightness, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, palpitations, nausea, weakness," says Dr Sahir Jamati, consultant psychologist and psychotherapist, HOD-Department of Psychology, Masina Hospital.
"Although there is no evidence of direct affect of heart attack because of break up, but secondary effects can lead to heart related issues. Some literature also say that there is a broken heart syndrome or stress cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy which mimics a heart attack but is caused by sudden physical or emotional stress. Here symptoms are shortness of breath and chest pain. Death is rare in such a condition which is reversible and is due to stress hormones mentioned above," says Dr Choudhury.
WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR HEART AFTER A BREAKUP
Dr Jamati says losing a loved one can be emotionally devastating and problem happens when psychological distress triggers sudden weakness of heart muscle.
"It can be caused because of acute anxiety due to sudden shock. Reason behind heart growing weak due to physical or emotional stress could be due to flooding of stress hormone like adrenaline, noradrenalin which suddenly becomes too much to handle and interferes with heart functioning. It can happen in any situation that makes you feel extremely anxious or panicky. In most of the cases, broken heart syndrome is a short and temporary condition which can be recovered," says Dr Jamati.
OTHER REASONS WHY HEART SUFFERS AFTER A HEARTBREAK
Dr Choudhury lists other factors which may have an indirect effect on heart after experiencing a heartbreak or breakup:
- There is loss of appetite or in some cases there may be increased intake of carbohydrates or craving for carbohydrates (in event of a breakup). Sometimes a person may be more inclined to stay on processed food for long time because of his or her less desire to prepare or cook. This may indirectly increase the bad cholesterols in blood which may be harmful for the heart and make him or her prone to cardiac issues.
- The person may have decreased sleep leading to frequent headaches and may give rise to increased blood pressure which again is an independent risk factor for heart attacks.
- Moreover a person with recent heart break may take help of different substances like alcohol to cope in an unhealthy manner which can cause risks of heart attacks.
- Increased stress can lower our immunity which can make us vulnerable to different infections. Although incidences are quite rare, but such infections become generalised and neglected because of underlying apathy, can affect the major organs including the heart.
HOW TO DEAL WITH HEART PROBLEMS AFTER HEART BREAK
Even if it is not a heart attack, but since the symptoms feel like a heart attack and initial symptoms may be life threatening, so it is important to get medical attention immediately.
Here are tips by Dr Jamati:
- You may need medicines to manage your blood pressure and lessen some strains on heart.
- Counselling by trained professional can help you to overcome grief or anxiety.
- Learning stress management and developing problem solving skills can improve emotional stress.
- Engaging in relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, deep breathing and slow exhaling techniques can help.
- In addition to all these, adapting good lifestyle habits too can be helpful like: getting regular exercises (minimum 5 times a week for minimum 30 minutes everyday), getting continuous 7-8 hours of sleep every night, eating a healthy diet and drinking enough fluids, keeping away from unhealthy choices like smoking, alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, etc.