Surprise! Your heart health shows on your face

The other day I was watching a video taken in the late 1990s of a political debate I took part in. It occurred just a short while before I discovered I was suffering from blocked arteries, and that I needed bypass surgery. After that, I also had another health meltdown where I found out I had celiac disease.

Fortunately, both my heart and brain health improved immensely since I gave up gluten.

But the reason I’m talking to you about this today is that a recent study at the Indiana University School of Medicine shows that if you have difficulties registering emotions on your face, it could mean that your heart and lungs are in trouble. People with significant heart and lung conditions lack a normal range of facial expressions. They can’t even show surprise.

In the video, I can now see there was something wrong with my face. Not exactly paralysis, but a definite restriction of my facial expressions.

Researchers noticed the same thing when they recorded video of hospital patients who were suffering shortness of breath and chest pain, and who had dangerous lung and heart conditions. They discovered that the people displayed only a narrow spectrum of facial expressions compared to people who were in good health.

The scientists concluded that: “We believe that due to the gravity of their illness, [these] patients may not have been able to process and respond to an emotional stimulus in the way that would be expected of most people under normal conditions.”

As the Indiana study points out, my restrictions were probably linked to the hidden, ugly events that were taking place inside my body.

During those years, I saw a long list of doctors, but none ever figured out the root cause of my problems.

This is one of the best arguments for old-fashioned doctoring … when doctors put their hands on you and look at you to observe how you’re feeling. Now we call it “poking and prodding” but it’s very important for diagnosing illness. Those kinds of medical observations are just as vital for finding out what’s wrong with people as lab tests.

Maybe this type of research can help put the personal touch back into medical exams and lead to a better way of helping people in distress.


Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.