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You CAN Die from a Broken Heart

Health & Harmony

By Dr. Nancy Gahles, DC, CCH, OIM, MBSR

You CAN Die from a Broken Heart

February is Heart Health Month

Extreme stress can literally break your heart. Research is now clear that major life stressors cause the heart to break, suddenly, or to break down progressively over time.

Sudden heart “attacks” are caused by shocks. Witnessing shocking situations like a car accident, domestic violence, natural disasters or the death of a loved one, person or pet. Hearing of bad news qualifies for a sudden heart attack in some people when they are susceptible. For instance, the shock of a medical diagnosis, the news of loss of person, property, job or financial loss can be enough to “stun” the heart with a cascade of hormones causing collapse of function.

Progressive “ broken” heart occurs over time as the heart muscle weakens from chronic exposure to stress. This happens most frequently in women. Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Sadly, due to lack of research on women, the symptoms are not readily identifiable either to the woman or the doctor. Exhaustion, gastritis, back pain,chest and shoulder pain, jaw/face pain, shortness of breath on exertion, sleep disturbances and mood alteration, particularly sadness and loneliness are characteristic of cardiomyopathy.

Women undergoing medical treatments are at risk as are those caring for chronically ill children, partners, parents.

Severe pain can trigger broken heart syndrome. So can an asthma attack,a fierce argument, suppressed anger, a surprise party or an impending performance event . These are both perceived and real threats to your safety. Your fight or flight mechanism will respond by flooding the heart with adrenaline. The shock may be too much for the heart.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a condition that mainly affects women who die from overwork. The ultimate price to pay for heedless work/life balance issues. Research shows those at highest risk for heart attacks and strokes are women who work at home and who also have an outside job. That would place virtually every woman I know at high risk.

Abhijeet Dhoble, MD, cardiologist at Houston’s Memorial Heart and Vascular Institute published in the New England Journal,of Medicine on broken heart syndrome citing over 6,200 cases reported in 2012.

Jeffrey Decker, MD, Chief of Cardiology, Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, MI, said, “The condition doesn’t just happen after a person or pet dies, nor is it always centered on a health issue.” He continues, “I had a lady who was frustrated with the cable company present with this.”

Experts agree: Stress kills. Prevention matters.

Individuality must be addressed. A holistic assessment must be made in each case. I have treated many cases with an integrative approach. One effective approach is heart rate coherence.

Heart rate coherence is a system that objectively monitors your heart rhythms and displays the physiological level of coherence - an optimal state in which the heart, mind and emotions are operating in synch,in balance, and the immune, hormonal and nervous systems function in a state of harmonious coordination. To learn more

Dr.Nancy Gahles is a holistic and integrative doctor, owner of Health & Harmony Wellness Center. She is Founder of Spirit of Love~The Rockaway Sangha, a center for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction ,a member of the Charter for Compassion Intl. Website:

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