Month: April 2013

Broken Heart Syndrome – Yes You can Die from a Broken Heart

Emotional Stress Can Trigger Broken Heart Syndrome, Putting Middle-Age Women at Risk

There’s a saying that no one ever died from a , but science shows it can still do a lot of damage. For a person with what’s known as Broken Heart Syndrome, an emotional stress like the death of a loved one can cause a seemingly healthy heart to stop working normally.

Doctors estimate 1 to 2 percent of patients who are diagnosed with a heart attack in the U.S. are actually suffering broken heart syndrome. The confusion occurs because patients have many of the same symptoms as a heart attack, including chest pains and shortness of breath.

Inside the body, though, broken heart syndrome looks very different from a heart attack. While a heart attack is usually caused by blocked arteries, medical experts believe broken heart syndrome is caused by a surge in adrenaline and other hormones. When patients experience an adrenaline rush in the aftermath of a stressful situation, the heart muscle may be overwhelmed and become temporarily weakened. The left ventricle of the heart takes on a cone-like shape that resembles a Japanese pot used to capture an octopus. That shape gives the condition its medical name — Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

Middle-Aged Women at Risk of Broken Heart Syndrome

Broken heart syndrome can occur following any kind of stress — everything from a death in the family to fear of public speaking. It can also be caused by physical stress, like an asthma attack or seizure. In a study of some 254 broken heart syndrome patients, the American Journal of Cardiology found that 27 percent of patients had suffered an emotional stress, 39 percent a physical stress, and 24 percent couldn’t identify a stress at all.

The vast majority of broken heart syndrome sufferers are women — studies suggest that 90 to 95 percent of patients are female, and most of them have already gone through menopause. Experts aren’t sure why middle-aged women are at greater risk for a broken heart, but sex differences in hormones are one possible cause.

No Known Way to Prevent Broken Heart, But Most Recover

Unfortunately, there’s no known way to prevent broken heart syndrome. Many of the patients are healthy and active — not people you’d guess would have a heart problem.

Most broken heart patients have a complete recovery and suffer no long-term damage to their hearts. Nearly 95 percent of patients have a complete recovery within two months. While the syndrome can recur, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s not likely. Doctors at Johns Hopkins say that in five years of following patients, none have experienced broken heart syndrome a second time.

If you suspect you may be suffering from Broken Heart Syndrome then book an appointment now to release the emotional stress stored in your nervous system.

Broken Heart Syndrome References:

Mayo Clinic – Broken Heart Syndrome

Wikipedia – Broken Heart

John Hopkins Medicine – Broken Heart Syndrome

ABC News – Yes You Can Die From A Broken Heart

 

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Evolution Could Explain Placebo Effect

ON THE face of it, the placebo effect makes no sense. Someone suffering from a low-level infection will recover just as nicely whether they take an active drug or a simple sugar pill. This suggests people are able to heal themselves unaided – so why wait for a sugar pill to prompt recovery?

New evidence from a computer model offers a possible evolutionary explanation, and suggests that the immune system has an on-off switch controlled by the mind.

It all starts with the observation that something similar to the placebo effect occurs in many animals, says Peter Trimmer, a biologist at the University of Bristol, UK. For instance, Siberian hamsters do little to fight an infection if the lights above their lab cage mimic the short days and long nights of winter. But changing the lighting pattern to give the impression of summer causes them to mount a full immune response.

Likewise, those people who think they are taking a drug but are really receiving a placebo can have a response which is twice that of those who receive no pills (Annals of Family Medicine, doi.org/cckm8b). In Siberian hamsters and people, intervention creates a mental cue that kick-starts the immune response.

There is a simple explanation, says Trimmer: the immune system is costly to run – so costly that a strong and sustained response could dangerously drain an animal’s energy reserves. In other words, as long as the infection is not lethal, it pays to wait for a sign that fighting it will not endanger the animal in other ways.

Nicholas Humphrey, a retired psychologist formerly at the London School of Economics, first proposed this idea a decade ago, but only now has evidence to support it emerged from a computer model designed by Trimmer and his colleagues.

According to Humphrey’s picture, the Siberian hamster subconsciously acts on a cue that it is summer because food supplies to sustain an immune response are plentiful at that time of year. We subconsciously respond to treatment – even a sham one – because it comes with assurances that it will weaken the infection, allowing our immune response to succeed rapidly without straining the body’s resources.

Trimmer’s simulation is built on this assumption – that animals need to spend vital resources on fighting low-level infections. The model revealed that, in challenging environments, animals lived longer and sired more offspring if they endured infections without mounting an immune response. In more favourable environments, it was best for animals to mount an immune response and return to health as quickly as possible (Evolution and Human Behavior, doi.org/h8p). The results show a clear evolutionary benefit to switching the immune system on and off depending on environmental conditions.

“I’m pleased to see that my theory stands up to computational modelling,” says Humphrey. If the idea is right, he adds, it means we have misunderstood the nature of placebos. Farming and other innovations in the past 10,000 years mean that many people have a stable food supply and can safely mount a full immune response at any time – but our subconscious switch has not yet adapted to this. A placebo tricks the mind into thinking it is an ideal time to switch on an immune response, says Humphrey.

Paul Enck at the University of Tübingen in Germany says it is an intriguing idea, but points out that there are many different placebo responses, depending on the disease. It is unlikely that a single mechanism explains them all, he says.

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