Medical specialists from across the globe teamed up in Amsterdam this weekend to launch a first-of-its-kind clinic for the brokenhearted.
The clinic was part of an art project "Love in The City," and was co-sponsored by the VU Medical Centre and the Paradiso, a cultural center in Amsterdam.
The clinic organizers were aiming to highlight the physiological mechanisms of love and brought in neurologists, ophthalmologists, and cardiologists to host the day-long clinic at the Vrije University Medical Center.
The experts looked at a total of 20 patients suffering from heartbreak. Patient anonymity was a serious issue; press were not allowed to interview any of the brokenhearted subjects.
Doctors wanted to emphasize that love is indeed a medically diagnosable phenomenon.
"By looking at physical changes in the body and comparing with neuropsychological questions, it seems we are able to measure love and broken hearts," said Thomas Wurdinger, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who was involved in the project.
Doctors measured heart rate, blood pressure and electrocardiography readings when patients visually confronted a photo of their beloved.
For those who said they were madly in love, they found clear increases in heart function compared to no change in the loveless controls.
Those suffering from a broken heart were slated to be in the "protest phase" according to Wurdinger, who said neuropsychological analysis supported the "possibility of continued reactivation of love hormones, especially in the ones who still saw their ex."
The doctors say they hope these kind of events can serve as a starting point for future research into the exact mechanisms involved in love. For patients, having a diagnosis of lovesickness serves as a validation for the pain they suffer.
"Because of the hormones and neurotransmitters, love affects many parts of the body, including your brain, digestive tract, heart, blood vessels, kidneys -- this is what you feel, this is not something you make up," says Wurdinger, debunking the common claim that love is a purely psychological experience.
Despite a solid diagnosis, lovesick patients at the event had to settle for treatment in the form of chocolate.
"We hope people with a broken heart will be helped by gaining knowledge about the background of their pain -- if they understand that what they feel is normal," says Dr. Carolien Bulte, a participating cardiologist from Vrije University.
However, those suffering from extreme heartbreak can fall in to depression or have suicidal tendencies. "If we encounter people with these serious problems, we will refer them to their doctor," assures Bulte.
Hope for the Heartbroken
"Love in the City" organizers were pleased with the love clinic.
"We thought it would be a nice angle for scientists to contribute something positive to the city landscape," said Paradiso's Program Manager, Jeldau Kwikkel, about collaboration with the medical center.
The unexpectedly enthusiastic response to the clinic is just one way the project has highlighted the need for a better understanding of love and heartbreak.
"The response was kind of extreme," Kwikkel said. "Especially among people who were love sick, they were relieved that finally there was a medical place for examining their pain."
Everyone suffering from heartbreak, however, may not need to rush out to the closest medical center. According to Wurdinger, love sickness is something that will go away after a while with the help of your social network of friends and family.
And, living in a big city may actually help you deal with the pain. With so many people living together the odds of finding support increase. So do the chances of finding new love.
Indeed, research by Dr. Lesel Dawson of the University of Bristol suggests that one possible cure for lovesickness is simply sex. Because certain hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin are released after sex, there is reason to believe they may neutralize the effect of lovesickness.
Wurdinger agrees with this treatment, but with a warning, "As long as it is not with your ex."