Broken Hearts Are Truly Painful, Research Shows
If you've ever gone through extreme grief, a rough divorce or a break-up, you'll know this to be true: that aching feeling in your heart truly hurts, and now research backs it up.
New research, published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, examines a number of studies to find that social pain and rejection are quite real. One study showed that brain activity is similar in people when they talk about both moments of social rejection and physical pain.
"We were sitting next to each other and noticed how similar the two brain images looked," study researcher Naomi Eisenberger of the University of Califiornia-Los Angeles said in a statement. She noted that this could be because some of the same brain regions process both physical and social pain.
Researchers found in another study that people sensitive to physical pain also feel social pain more deeply. In that instance, people with a high physical pain sensitivity were more likely to feel rejected after participating in a social exclusion experiment.
And in another study, researchers found that people who took Tylenol for three weeks were also less likely to report having any hurt feelings during the time period than people who took a placebo. Eisenberger said she doesn't think it's a good idea for people to take a painkiller for social pain, but she thought the finding was interesting -- particularly because "we take Tylenol for physical pain; it's not supposed to work on social pain."
Earlier this year, a study was published in the journal Circulation showing that broken hearts could actually lead to a higher risk of heart attack, with heart attack risk being 21 times higher than normal on the day of a bereavement.
That study, which included 2,000 people, also showed that heart attack risk is six times higher than normal during the first week after the day of bereavement.
And then of course, there's the actual broken heart syndrome, also known as stress cardiomyopathy. With this condition, heart muscles are weakened because of extreme stress (like that which comes from grief), the Chicago Tribune reported. The condition is most common among post-menopausal women.
"I think that this is one of those diseases that clearly points to the fact that there is a connection between emotions and physical health," Dr. Annabelle Volgman, medical director of Rush University Medical Center's Heart Center for Women, told the Chicago Tribune.