Hello there and welcome back,
February is heart disease awareness month. In my last article, I promised that I would share how stress can cause heart disease.
I recall the first time I met a patient diagnosed with this condition more than seven years ago:
She was close to 80 years old. She came in ‘feeling poorly’ for the last few months. Her husband had died from a chronic illness almost 15 years ago, and she never remarried. Despite being afflicted with constant back pain, she still tried to remain active. She attended regular outings of her red hat society and other senior activities. She was a delight to interview. I admitted her to the hospital, and we began running a battery of tests to find out what was the problem.
By the next day, her test results started to come in. Her heart enzyme levels were dangerously high. But she had never complained of chest pain to explain this. A cardiologist (a heart specialist) was asked to see her. She had a heart test called an echocardiogram. The results of the analysis showed that she had a heart condition called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy.
OK before your eyes glaze over, I know this sounds like a mouthful. But let me gently break the news to you- it is also called ‘Broken Heart Syndrome.’ This particular heart condition could be caused by-you guessed right if you said STRESS!
It was first described in Japan and is more common amongst women. The kicker is that either intense emotional or physical stress causes it. Anything from a medical illness, to domestic abuse, heated arguments, devastating financial loss, the death of a close relative. The list goes on. The word ‘Takotsubo’ in Japanese means ‘octopus pot.’ It describes the unique way it causes the bottom part of the heart to balloon up.
It is not sure how precisely takotsubo cardiomyopathy damages the heart. It is thought to be related to the release of a significant amount of the stress hormone called epinephrine released into the bloodstream. Unlike the more common type of heart disease-coronary artery disease- that is caused by blockage of the arteries.
The use of over the counter cold medication called phenylephrine, as well as illicit drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine, can also cause takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
It can cause the same symptoms as a heart attack like chest pain. Some patients may have shortness of breath (like my patient) or have a fainting spell.
The good news is that takotsubo cardiomyopathy if discovered and treated early is reversible. The sad story is that if left untreated eventually the heart muscle becomes too weak and can eventually lead to heart failure. Unfortunately, this was the case for my lovely elderly patient.
I share this information with you because it became clear to me that just as stress is insidious in our lives, so can it’s effects be in our hearts.
Who would believe that a heart could break from our life experiences?
The truth is that there are far too many women out there just like my patient. They are going through life oblivious to the effects that stress has on them.
They are our sisters, our neighbors, mothers, co-workers, and yes- even ourselves.
How many times have you felt a twinge of chest pain and chalked it down to ‘just stress’? Now I’m not saying to you that every twinge that you feel is a heart attack about to happen. What I am saying is that as women we have been given an ‘innate knowingness’ about our bodies. It is called a woman’s intuition. It is that intuition that signals that heart pain (ache). Then we dismiss it as ‘only stress.’ It is our body’s inner knowingness signaling us to stop and pay attention, to search within.
I know from firsthand experience as a primary care provider that being diagnosed with a chronic illness such as type 2 diabetes adds another layer of stress. But I am also here to assure you it does not have to be this way.
I do not want to see one more woman suffer from a broken heart.
It is my vision to form a TRIBE of likeminded women who want to THRIVE and experience ‘stress less’ lives.
Here are some things you can start doing today:
- Pay attention to the signals that your body sends to you. Be still, take notice, and check within.
- If these symptoms persist, please schedule an appointment to see your healthcare provider.
- If you are not satisfied with the answer that your healthcare provider gives you, please be persistent. Don’t get blown off.
- Make it a priority to learn how to handle stress
- If you are a woman living with chronic illness find ways to create a network that supports you.
As always I look forward to your comments.
To your Health and Wellbeing,