Trauma not only impacts mental, but physical health as well.
Witnessing a traumatic event can impact a person’s mental health. But what about their physical health? According to Baystate Medical Center cardiologist Dr. Amir Lutfi, trauma not only leads to pronounced changes in brain functioning, but this can, in turn, noticeably affect one’s physical well-being, causing broken heart syndrome and other heart ailments.
A traumatic event, or series of events, are mainly known to disturb the mental health of people. However, along with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and many other mental health ailments that could surface after the fact, these events can also impact heart health, immunity, and other areas of the body. Trauma survivors may experience very real physical symptoms such as chest pain and tightness, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath, as well as a weakened immune system and increased risk of chronic diseases, especially those involving energy and sleep.
Dr. Lutfi emphasizes that individuals with underlying heart issues, weakened heart muscles, or narrowing/blockage of blood vessels are especially susceptible to experiencing heightened stress in their hearts. These issues can be amplified following trauma, and in some rare cases, increased stress can result also in the development of electrical abnormalities or even trigger a life-threatening heart attack or broken heart syndrome.
Broken heart syndrome is also, more technically, called takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Older patients, particularly females, commonly experience this syndrome. This condition is characterized by a sudden weakening of the heart muscle, usually triggered by extreme emotional stress. The syndrome also mimics a heart attack despite minimal or no blockage in the heart’s blood vessels. Recovery typically occurs within four to six weeks after the acute event. Treatment usually focuses on symptom management and preventing complications. Beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors may be prescribed to prevent the heart from weakening further.
Dr Lutfi highlighted the domino effect trauma initiates, suggesting that the stress of traumatic events on individuals can elevate the risk of heart problems compared to the baseline from the previous year in that environment. He advised individuals to be mindful of their bodies during traumatic events. Seeking help is crucial, and it’s important to take prescribed medications. If a person experiences any acute symptoms, especially those related to the chest, jaw, or arms, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention.
It’s also important to note that the mental, physical, and emotional consequences of experiencing traumatic events can affect not only those directly involved but also individuals who may have witnessed or been indirectly connected to such events, including healthcare workers who live the trauma vicariously through their patients. Those who work in mental health fields and hospital emergency rooms are highly susceptible.
Dr Lutfi also underscored the crucial connection between mental and physical health, in general. It is essential to recognize that the mental health of an individual can significantly impact the rest of their well-being. Timely self-care is critical and taking care of both as soon as possible is essential.