By Rhia Sing’17
In 1991, Billy Ray Cyrus released his song, “Achy Breaky Heart,” and it was nominated for a Grammy. Throughout the years, pop culture has cultivated the notion of falling in love and suffering through a broken heart and for the most part, these emotions were believed to be separated from a person’s physical health. But what is a broken heart caused more damage than just a bad country song.
First, Broken Heart Syndrome, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy and takotsubo cardiomyopathy, is is a condition in which intense emotional or physical stress can cause severe heart muscle weakness. It can occur from emotional stressors such as grief, fear, extreme anger, and surprise.
During this time, the blood pumping in and out of the heart becomes temporarily disrupted by a surge of stress hormones. Stress hormones include Adrenaline, Cortisol, and Norepinephrine.
Adrenaline is commonly thought of as the fight or flight hormone because it is produced by the adrenal glands during a stressful situation and it causes an increase in blood rate.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is also produced by the adrenal glands. It takes a few minutes to take effect as the release of this hormone is a multi-step process.
First, the amygdala, a part of the brain, must recognize a threat and send a message to the hypothalamus, which releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH causes the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which causes the adrenal glands to produce cortisol.
In a stressful situation, cortisol is helpful because it also helps to regulate blood flow and maintain fluid balance. However, continuously releasing cortisol can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and sugar levels, decrease libido, produce acne, and contribute to obesity.
Norepinephrine is similar to adrenaline as it is also released by the adrenal gland and it acts like a back-up system. This hormone redirects blood flow from less necessary organs like the skin to the muscular system.
Hormones such as estrogen and testosterone as well as neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin can influence the effect of the stress hormones on a person. For the most part, Broken Heart Syndrome can lead to symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath and in some cases it can be fatal. Under the care of a physician, or by engaging in relaxing activities, say, eating a tub of ice cream the effects can be dealt with.
While something like a rought breakup may seem only temporary, the long-term effects of chronic stress are very real.