Affairs Of The Heart. Why Is Love So Important For Your Heart?

By: Holly L. Thacker, MD • Posted on February 03, 2013

Affairs Of The Heart. Why Is Love So Important For Your Heart?

February Is National Heart Month

February is Valentine’s month. Which means romantic hearts, red cupids, heart healthy dark chocolate treats and heart disease awareness. The first Friday in February is the American Heart Association's "Go Red for Women" also referred to as Red Dress Day, designated for Women and Heart Disease Awareness. This is important because heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women. Unfortunately, many women underestimate the threat of heart disease, and it is vitally important to raise awareness amongst healthcare providers, consumers, the media and the community at large.

Wear Red Day

So this past Friday on Red Dress Day, I was walking the skyway at the Cleveland Clinic, the #1 Heart Center in world, dressed from head to toe in bright red. Wearing my red dress replete with a red dress pin, I was thinking about how I came to the Cleveland Clinic many years ago with the plan to pursue a career in cardiology, but how my fascination with gender differences in heart disease led me to become interested in menopause, hormones and interdisciplinary women’s health. At that very moment when I was thinking about how I loved my career and loved working at the Clinic, who did I run into, but Dr. Toby Cosgrove, world renowned cardiothoracic surgeon and the CEO of our large Cleveland Clinic Health System. He smiled and commented that I was wearing “all red.” I smiled and said “Of course I am, it is red dress day.”

How Love Is Good For Your Heart

Poets, writers, vocal artists, and romantics have all waxed on about love and the heart for centuries. We all intuitively know about how love is good for the heart and how lack of love is bad for the heart. A recent study reported on lower heart attack rates in married persons. Note to self: Remind my husband how lucky he is to be married to me!

We have scientific evidence that heartbreak for instance, after the death of a loved one or other stressors such as job loss can lead to illness and even higher death rates. “Broken heart syndrome,” is an actual acute stress heart condition that can abruptly occur after an intense emotional or physical stress that precipitates rapid and severe heart muscle weakness and failure leading to an abrupt cardiomyopathy (heart muscle pump weakness). Most causes of cardiomyopathy are from years of:

  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Heart attacks from clogged arteries
  • Prolonged alcohol or other toxin exposure

But “broken heart syndrome” can occur acutely in an otherwise normal heart. Interestingly, this condition is most common in peri- and post-menopausal women, although it has been described in men and younger women as well.

Treat Your Heart Right

Be good to your heart:

  • Don’t smoke or use any nicotine
  • Watch your weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Treat high blood pressure
  • Treat diabetes
  • Know your cholesterol ratios
  • Eat a Mediterranean diet
  • Use alcohol in moderation (for women that is a maximum of 3-5 drinks per week and no more than 1-2 in one day)
  • Engage in healthy stress reduction
  • Take a baby aspirin if instructed by your physician
  • Carry baby aspirin in case of acute heart attack
  • Learn CPR
  • Do not ignore even vague symptoms like:
    • fatigue
    • shortness of breath with exercise
    • for goodness sake, if you have acute chest pain or shortness of breath, call 911.
  • If you are out of shape, do not go out in the cold weather after eating and engage in heavy snow shoveling.

Beyond the classic heart health advice, be sure to LOVE. Love your family, friends, your career, your hobbies, your pets, your passions, and be sure to smile when you see a lady all dressed in red.

Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be in Charge!

-Holly L. Thacker, MD

Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP is nationally known for her leadership in women’s health. She is the founder of the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Fellowship and is currently the Professor and Director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health at Cleveland Clinic and Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. Her special interests are menopause and related medical problems including osteoporosis, hormone therapy, breast cancer risk assessment, menstrual disorders, female sexual dysfunction and interdisciplinary women’s health. Dr. Thacker is the Executive Director of Speaking of Women’s Health and the author of Women’s Health: Your Body, Your Hormones, Your Choices and Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause.

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