She died of a broken heart! She took to her bed and died! These are statements we think we'll find in Victorian dramas, romance novels and other areas of literary fiction.
Except that it's not fiction. It happens and the technical term is Stress Cardiomyopathy, better known as Broken Heart Syndrome. And women tend to suffer from it more than men.
A study conducted at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine showed that while not always fatal, this syndrome is caused by the link of hormones and the heart, and shows a clear correlation between the mind and body. One particularly astounding finding was that the levels of stress hormones in the blood of people suffering from this syndrome, like adrenalin, were two to three times higher than those suffering from classic heart attacks.
Why do women suffer more than men? That is still unclear although doctors from the Minneapolis Heart Institute have found that women react differently to stress - particular emotional stress.
Cardiologist Deborah Barbour, speaking on behalf of the American Heart Association, believes that "this is why we need to do more research involving women, we can't extrapolate a man's response to a woman."
How can we prevent Broken Heart Syndrome? Since we can't prevent shock, trauma or the sudden death of a loved one, the best we can do is learn how to deal with stress. Meditation, yoga and exercise can help but preventing Broken Heart Syndrome is difficult. This syndrome mimics a heart attack so closely that people are often misdiagnosed. Women need to tell their doctors if they have suffered sudden stress, if they have lost a loved one or if something has happened recently that could cause an otherwise healthy human being to appear to be undergoing heart failure. Constant stress in relationships or at work can also contribute.
The good news is that this syndrome is unusual. It is currently undergoing further study and as more women become involved in these studies, more will be known. And as more is known, we can take further steps to prevent this unusual, but very real heart condition.
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