Dr. Rosalind Kaplan, a Jefferson Women’s Primary Care physician, shares the toll emotional distress can have on one’s health and well-being.
Can emotional stress really cause death?
Yes, death from extreme stress is a real thing. Emotional shock causes massive increase in stress hormones in the blood stream. These hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, increase blood pressure and pulse and can even cause the rhythm of the heart to change. The increase in heart rate and blood pressure can cause a massive myocardial infarction, a fatal arrhythmia or something called Takotsubo (or Broken Heart) Syndrome which causes cardiomyopathy, a serious weakening of the heart muscle (this fortunately resolves if the person survives). Also extremely high blood pressure could lead to a stroke.
What’s the best way to prevent this phenomenon?
The best way to prevent such extreme physiologic reactions is to be told the news in a calm and supportive environment. If chest pain or shortness of breath or headache occur, these symptoms need to be taken seriously in an emergency room. Self-care to control blood pressure and taking prescribed medications is essential. Unfortunately, even with these precautions, the reaction may happen so fast that an event cannot be prevented.
After a shock, in the grieving period, support from family and friends is crucial. This is why most religions have rites and customs around death and funerals. Grief support groups or talking with a grief counselor may help. Good self-care like healthy eating, moderate exercise, getting enough sleep and perhaps a practice like meditation or yoga may help to lower stress hormones.
A visit to one’s doctor may be a good idea to check health parameters and, if necessary, to temporarily get medication for sleep or anxiety.