Category Archives: headache

Could Women’s Hearts be More Sensitive to Stress?

heart, mind, health, stress

Stress of the mind can hurt your heart.

Your heart is racing. Your palms are sweaty. Sometimes you may feel dizzy, disoriented, or nauseous. These are all potential symptoms when you are faced with a stressful situation. However, one of the most dangerous symptoms of stress is constriction of blood vessels. A recent study has found that women may be more at risk for heart-related health problems in response to stress.

What is stress?

Stress is a normal reaction to the demands of life that can affect both the body and mind. A little bit can be healthy to remind you to be more alert or more motivated. However, too much can contribute to a variety of health conditions such as:

  • ulcers
  • digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome
  • asthma
  • headaches
  • back pain

In addition to such conditions, stress can also increase blood pressure, which can in turn increase risk of heart disease. This is due to the body’s response to a perceived threat. The body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode in which the body constricts blood vessels to provide more blood flow to the major organs. Also, digestion slows to keep the body focused on providing blood to the brain and the heart.  However, if anxiety or chronic exposure to the perceived threat(s) occurs, then this response can negatively impact health.

Women, Stress, and the Heart

A recent study in the journal Arteriosclerosis looked at 678 people with coronary artery disease, or plaques in the major arteries that affects blood flow. Each person was asked to engage in public speaking, a commonly known fear of many, to see if it triggered myocardial ischemia, or a reduction of blood flow in the heart.

About 15-percent of study subjects triggered myocardial ischemia. Men and women were affected by this condition at a similar rate, but the cause was different.  In men, blood flow was mostly affected by high blood pressure and increased heart rate. On the other hand, in women it was caused by a constriction of blood vessels, also known as microvascular dysfunction. The difference between the two reactions is that in men, the perceived fear increased workload on the heart. However, in women, the dysfunction of vessels impaired blood flow.  It is not known whether this increased incidence of myocardial ischemia can increase risk of heart disease, but such studies are being planned.

Healthy Ways to Deal With Stress

You can help decrease stress, and in turn, lower risk of heart disease in a variety of ways.  The following list includes way you can lower stress on both your body and mind.

  • Limit coffee and caffeine since such constrict blood vessels, thus impacting blood flow. Two to three cups a day is suggested for adequate health benefit.
  • Quit or don’t smoke since smoking can also constrict blood vessels, and in turn blood flow, this increasing heart disease risk.
  • Live a balanced life. It is important to make sure that as hard as you work in your job and in exercising, you should also rest your body just as readily. A good balance of rest and activity is around 30 minutes a day of moderate activity such as walking combined with about 7 hours of sleep each night.  Being both active and resting well each night are important for the regulation of body fluids, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels in the body, among other things.
  • Be mindful in everything you do. When you are more mindful and aware of the choices you make each day, it can eliminate a lot of stress on the body.  The following are a list of small things you can do each day to be more mindful and in turn reduce stress on your body inside and out.
    • Plan and prep meals and snacks ahead of time.
    • Make healthy choices at meal and snack time such as less processed food and more fresh foods.
    • Portion out food choices to prevent excess intake.
    • Set a designated bedtime to help your body get more rest.
    • Make a to-do list to keep track of your weekly tasks and delegate any tasks that you can to others.
    • When you get stressed, give yourself a time-out with relaxation breathing to help you better face the situation at hand.
    • Make time for yourself in your schedule by setting aside 15 minutes a day to meditate, read, or do something your enjoy to give your body and mind a break.
  • Take supplements to help with sleep and managing stress. There are many herbal supplements on the market that claim to help with sleep and stress. However, it is important to do your research. Perhaps the supplement most well-known for its sleep-inducing properties is melatonin. It is actually a hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland that affects the sleep/wake cycle and produces drowsiness. Those that may be deficient in this hormone may experience trouble sleeping or insomnia. However, it is important to remember that since it is a hormone, it may not be suitable for everyone, so be sure to check with your doctor first before starting a melatonin regimen.

Another supplement to try is Sereneo by Vita Sciences. Sereneo contains a combination of magnesium, chamomile, and valerian to help promote a feeling of calm by working to help reduce stress and anxiety. Valerian and chamomile have been found to be safe, natural herbal remedies to help induce sleep, while magnesium has been found to help promote reduced anxiety and irritability. Be sure to let your healthcare provider know before starting any new supplement regimen to be sure it does not interact with any of your currently prescribed medications.

-written  by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

Sources:

American Heart Association (June 2014) “Fight Stress with Healthy Habits”

American Heart Association (June 2014) “Stress and Heart Health”

Berkeley Wellness (October 1, 2013) “Can Supplements Help You Sleep?”

Centers for Disease Control (March 2, 2017) “How Much Sleep Do I Need?”

Deans, M.D., E. (June 12, 2011) “Magnesium and the Brain: The Original Chill Pill.” Psychology Today.

Harvard Medical School: Division of Sleep Medicine (December 18, 2007) “The Characteristics of Sleep”

Mayo Clinic (March 31, 2017) “Stress Management”

Medline Plus (December 21, 2017) “Are Women’s Hearts More Vulnerable to Stress?”

Rodale Wellness (August 25, 2017) “4 Sleep Supplements That Actually Work”

 


  • Can you treat a migraine without pain medicine?

    migraine, headache, medicine, painIf you have ever had a migraine headache, you know the pain is so intense that a trip to the hospital may be in store.  In this case, the ER staff may use an opioid  pain medicine as a first resort. However, a recent study has shown that this commonly used drug, also known for its addictive qualities, may not be the best choice for migraine relief.

    What is a migraine?

    A migraine headache involves a throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head, usually along with other symptoms. Nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light are some of the most common symptoms of such headaches. Pain can occur for hours, or even days, and warning symptoms such as  constipation, mood changes, neck stiffness, increased thirst, or frequent yawning may precede a migraine.  In rare cases, right before a migraine you may get aura symptoms such as flashes of light or blind spots.  In the 24 hours after, you may have symptoms such as confusion, moodiness, dizziness, and weakness.

    Aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or a combination of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine may be used for treatment of most migraines. More severe cases may require medications such as Triptan or Ergot, which help constrict blood vessels and block pain pathways.  However, opioids are used if a person cannot tolerate such medicines.

    Migraine Relief Research

    A recent study in the journal Neurology looked at 127 patients who had at least trips to the New York emergency department for migraine headaches.  Half of the patients received the opioid hydromorphone and the other half received an IV of the dopamine-releasing drug prochlorperazine.

    After 48 hours of treatment, sixty-percent of people from the prochlorperazine group versus thirty-percent of the hydromorphone group felt relief.  In addition, the prochlorperazine group was 30-percent less likely to ask for more pain medicine after treatment than the opioid group (6-percent versus 36-percent).  This study suggests that anti-dopaminergic drugs may provide more relief to migraine headache sufferers than opioids. However, you should be sure to talk with your healthcare provider to find the best treatment for you.

    Natural Ways to Relieve Migraine Pain

    • Learn to cope (LTC) : This treatment gradually exposes patients to headache triggers to help them become desensitized to such triggers.
    • Practice consistent overall wellness: Be sure to get a good night’s sleep of at least 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night and eat healthy, balanced meals every day. Also, be sure to find healthy ways to manage stress such as doing yoga, engaging in relaxation breathing, or taking a walk daily.
    • Stay active: Regular exercise can help not only manage stress, but can also prevent migraines.  Exercise reduces such headaches by reducing tension in the body. Furthermore, staying active can help reduce body weight.  Since obesity is thought to be a risk factor for migraine headaches, weight loss could reduce such risk.
    • Other medicinal treatments: Cardiovascular or anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, and Botox may be prescribed to help prevent migraine headaches. However, for the more natural route, reach for Migravent by Vita Sciences.  Migravent contains natural ingredients such as PA-free butterbur, CoQ10, magnesium,  and riboflavin. This formula has been found to help prevent migraines and support reduced frequency of such headaches and related symptoms.

    Disclaimer: Please be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new medication.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

    Sources:

    Mayo Clinic (April 26, 2017) “Migraine”

    Medline Plus (October 18, 2017) “Skip Opioid Treatment for Migraine in the ER”