Matters of the Heart

As a family therapy clinician and teacher, I am constantly talking about the importance of relationships.  I’m thus thrilled when those outside of my specialty acknowledge that as well – especially when it comes from my colleagues and collaborators in the medical community.

In “Why Your Cardiologist should ask about your Love Life,” Dr. Sandeep Jauhar discusses the link between heart health and our emotional and relational worlds:

We have learned, for example, that fear and grief can cause serious cardiac injury. During emotional distress, the nerves that control the heartbeat can set off a maladaptive “fight or flight” response that causes blood vessels to constrict, the heart to gallop and blood pressure to rise, resulting in damage to the body.

Those of us who are present daily to the intensity of marital strife can certainly attest to this fact. What is more tender to the heart than being hurt by someone we love?

It is becoming a known fact that the importance of relationship, and the quality of relationship, directly impact one’s health and well being.  Researchers here at Penn Medicine have examined the impact of marital status upon the recovery from cardiac surgery, as well as the involvement of family and friends in improving healthcare outcomes.

For example, colleagues at The Center for Healthcare Innovation studied how to engineer social incentives for health, and suggested that more of our healthcare delivery system take advantage of the highly influential nature of social relationships.

Other research focused on the connection between marital status and recovery from cardiac surgery, and found that married people may fare better than those who are divorced, separated or widowed.  Although there is a lot more to examine relative to this connection, it is heartening to see the significance of relationship included as a key factor in promoting health and well being – yes, even in recovery from cardiac surgery.

Indeed, cardiologist Sandeep Juahar suggests we deploy a paradigm shift away from the individualized mode of thinking:

We will need to shift to a new paradigm for heart problems, one focused on prevention, to continue to make the kind of progress to which patients and doctors have become accustomed. In this paradigm, psychosocial factors will need to be front and center. Treating our hearts optimally will require treating our minds, too.

Thank you, Dr.  Jauhar.  I could not have said that better myself.

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