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Health & Balance

The Heart Speaks (Are You Listening?)

Loneliness, anger, and grief can break hearts as easily as high blood pressure. To heal the heart, feel the love.
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What Is the Heart, Really? continued...

Like those before her, Guarneri learned in medical school to block her emotions and treat the heart as a broken machine.

However, several memorable patients -- Russ, Paul, and Jean, whose stories are

told in the book -- opened her eyes to the value of looking deeper. She saw their vulnerability in the face of heart disease. "They didn't walk into my office on their own volition but were ushered in, ashen and terrified, having had a sobering glimpse of their own mortality," Guarneri writes.

 

She saw the effects of overwork, bad diet, loneliness -- the tensed faces, clenched fists, desperation, and anger. It was the beginning of her journey into mind-body medicine, the science that investigates the mind as an essential element in health and well-being.

"Behind every human being there's a life, a family, a history, and environment," Guarneri tells WebMD. "We're not just microbes on a plate; not everything can be fixed with Lipitor or a diuretic. It's not to say that those things aren't important. But in health care, we have lost the concept that we're dealing with human beings."

She also learned that patients were trying things like acupuncture to relieve stress. They asked questions she couldn't answer: How can I sleep without sleeping pills? How can I manage stress without sedatives? How can I lower blood pressure without taking medications that make me impotent?

In time, Guarneri founded the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, Calif., where patients can get such treatments as acupuncture, biofeedback, healing touch, massage, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and "stress mastery" -- as well as sophisticated Western interventional cardiology treatments.

"I am not an alternative medicine doctor," she tells WebMD. "I look at the whole person -- mind, body, spirit -- and use the best of Western medicine and alternative medicine, the best of both worlds."

Mehmet Oz, MD, is director of cardiovascular services at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. He's been on Oprah, making the case for mind-body medicine; for bringing Eastern philosophies into Western medicine, especially yoga, massage, and guided imagery tapes.

"My patients wear headphones during open heart surgery … listening to tapes that prompt them to breathe deeply, feel less pain, feel less anxiety," he tells WebMD. "We know that patients have awareness during surgery. ... These tapes help them cope with the stress of surgery."

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