Emotional Health Vital to Heart Health, Too
Leading a healthy life isn’t just about taking care of your body; it's also about taking care of your mind. UW Health's Integrative Medicine program offers just that, a care program that nurtures mind, body and spirit.
While many cardiac patients experience heart events due to high cholesterol, blood pressure or other contributing factors, many patients also experience heart symptoms due to stress. The Integrative Medicine program recognizes that and offers several services and treatment options that help patients acknowledge and deal with their emotional and psychological needs.
"We try to teach the patients to become more aware of their so called 'stressors' and their reaction to them," said Katherine Bonus, the UW Mindfulness Project Manager. "With training in mindfulness, we recognize more consistently what is occurring as it happens and relate to it, rather than react to it in a habitual and often subconscious way.”
"By recognizing self-created chaos and stress, we can learn to perceive life in a more positive light," said Dr. Dave Rakel, a UW Health Integrative and Family Medicine physician.
Attitude and overall emotional health can play an important role in a cardiac patient’s health. This point was borne out in a recent study, which suggested that stress can be the sole contributor to some patients' heart events. This type of heart event is commonly known as "Broken Heart Syndrome."
Essentially, consistently high levels of stress can cause the blood vessels around the heart to go into spasm, causing the patient to experience all the signs and symptoms of a heat attack. In one study, 18 of the 19 patients who experienced broken heart syndrome were women.
The reason for the high number of women experiencing this is not entirely clear, but it is evident that women have the potential to be more highly affected by stress.
"Women do have larger limbic systems," Dr. Rakel said, referring to the part of the brain that controls emotions. "This can be very beneficial when it comes to caring for others and communicating, but these systems can also cause higher levels of stress and larger stress-related events."
Small amounts of stress can be healthy, but consistent stress, depression or emotional trauma can cause anything from a weakened immune system to a heart event.
"Being aware of, recognizing and relating to emotions in kind and gentle ways is essential to determining their impact on our system," Bonus said. "Learning to be more mindful and aware is one of the best preventative measures one can take."
UW Health's Integrative Medicine program offers consultations, classes, massage therapy and acupuncture as ways of helping patients deal with stress.
"By being more aware, we can make more accurate connections," Dr. Rakel said. "It is about living in the present."
For more information on classes, visit the UW Health Integrative Medicine Web site or call (608) 262-9355.