The Real Broken Heart

by Paul Blustein

Recently we've had inquires from folks that were concerned about heart attacks and high state of emotions. We have done some research and here is what we found at the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Sudden and extreme fluctuations in emotion may place heart patients at increased risk for cardiac abnormalities, researchers report.

These abnormalities indicate weakening of cardiac function and are clear markers that the individual may have future heart problems, according to study lead author Dr. James Blumenthal, of Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina. The findings are published in the August issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Sudden emotional upset can trigger a temporary rise in blood pressure, even in normal, healthy individuals. However, the effects of strong emotion on heart patients are less clear.

Investigating this issue, Blumenthal's team monitored the cardiac activity of 136 heart patients during special laboratory stress tests. Subjects were then asked to wear portable monitors that tracked their normal cardiac activity for a period of 2 days. Each subject kept a diary recording all activities and changes in emotional state occurring throughout this 2-day period.

Based on diary entries, the authors classified 37 of the subjects as being "emotionally reactive"--individuals who have a tendency to respond excessively to even minor stresses.

According to the investigators, emotionally reactive subjects were up to 4 times as likely to experience transient ischemia -- a temporary reduction of blood supply to the heart -- than were non-reactives.

In a second experiment, the researchers compared the mechanics of heart function in each subject using a small radioactive tracer and a special camera. Blumenthal notes that cardiologists noticed abnormalities in the motion of the walls of the left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart, in those patients with higher levels of emotional responsivity (reactivity). Previous research has linked these types of abnormalities to a raised risk for fatal and nonfatal cardiac events.

According to a Duke University statement, the study findings support the notion that psychological interventions can lower risks for heart attack and other cardiac events. Current calming interventions include biofeedback, stress-management therapies, and various relaxation techniques.

Source: "Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 1999,67".

We thank the Journal for their great information.

Stay healthy,

You can reach Paul at

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