FierceRomanceFeeling lightheaded, giddy, and unable to think clearly? Don’t call the doctor; it may just be love. Most of us over the age of 15 are familiar with the heart-pounding, fever-inducing euphoria that comes with romantic love.

As Valentine’s Day nears and the traffic on dating websites spikes, Mary Lynn, D.O., co-director of the Loyola University Sexual Wellness Clinic and her team report that it might be helpful to remember that those amazing emotions are actually caused by a flood of hormones and feel-good chemicals that may leave you viewing your beloved through rose-colored glasses.

Of course, the object of your affections may be the best, possible partner for you, just be aware of what your body and mind are doing, while your heart is going pitty-pat.

When you fall in love, levels of dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine rise. The dopamine (the same chemical that responds to drugs like cocaine) creates that feeling of euphoria. The adrenaline and norepinephrine cause your heart to race, making you restless and anxious. Another chemical, called nerve growth factor (NGF) rises dramatically when people report feeling intense passion.

Serotonin is the fourth ingredient in the cocktail. “Love lowers serotonin levels, which is common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorders,” Lynn says. That’s why it’s hard for you to think about anything but your partner in the first stages of your relationship.

Using MRI scans, the Loyala team found that love lights up the pleasure center of the brain. It increases blood flow to the area and encourages you to focus almost exclusively on your new relationship.

As anyone who has ever fallen head over heels in love can attest, all of this feels like magic. But the Loyola team warns that these physical responses may throw you off your game when it comes to deciding if your new partner is really the right person for you.

As you move through the three phases of love — lust, attraction and attachment — your judgment may be overshadowed by heat and hormones. The bottom line: if a dear friend or family member you trust suggests that you take a closer look at your new partner before you commit, she or he may be on target.

“Outsiders may have a much more objective and rational perspective on the partnership than the two people involved,” adds Pat Mumby, Ph.D., co-director of the Loyola Clinic.

But here’s the best news. The wild passion associated with NGF fades after about 12 months, but scientists now know that for people who find the right partner, romantic love can last forever. The heart palpitations and obsessiveness eases as your relationship moves toward the attachment phase, but that also brings a wonderful gift — as you grow closer, your beloved becomes someone who is first and foremost your best friend.

New Stroke Prevention Guidelines for Women

The American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association have released new guidelines for stroke prevention that consider the unique risk factors that affect women.

Stroke is a leading cause of disability and death for both genders, but a woman’s risk is shaped by factors such as pregnancy, menopause and possible stroke triggers like emotional stress that are more common in women. The guidelines are especially good news for African-American women. Our risk is approximately 60 percent greater than women in other racial or ethnic groups.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are the top stroke risk factors for everyone, but the new guidelines advise women to pay close attention to:

? Pregnancy-related risks: If you have high blood pressure and you become pregnant, take special precautions to manage your blood pressure during your pregnancy, such as taking a daily low-dose aspirin or a calcium supplement. The idea is to avoid preeclampsia — a condition created by high blood pressure during pregnancy that can cause a stroke or a low-birth-weight baby.

Women who have had preeclampsia also have twice the risk of stroke and four times the risk of developing high blood pressure later in life.

? The blood pressure/birth control equation. Hypertension is a stroke risk for everyone, so it must be managed. But make sure you know whether you have high blood pressure before taking birth control pills, as they can increase your risk of
stroke as well.

? Signs more common in women. Certain ongoing health problems are more likely to indicate an increased chance of a stroke in women. These include: migraines with an aura (neurological symptoms that occur about 30 minutes before the headache begins); atrial fibrillation (a specific type of irregular heartbeat); diabetes; depression and emotional stress. The risk of stroke also nearly doubles 10 years after menopause.

For a full review of the new guidelines and advice on your personal risk, talk to your doctor.

An Aspirin a Day Protects Against Ovarian Cancer

A new study conducted by the National Cancer Institute reports that women can reduce their chances of developing ovarian cancer by 20 to 34 percent (depending on dose and frequency) by taking a single, low-dose aspirin each day.

Black women have a lower risk of ovarian cancer than white or Hispanic women, but the disease should be of the utmost concern to all women. An estimated 20,000 women will develop ovarian cancer in 2014. It is a particularly dangerous form of cancer because it is often diagnosed late and very difficult to treat.

Researchers are not exactly sure how the aspirin works against the cancer, but the key may be the drug’s ability to reduce inflammation. This new research adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests that taking 74 to 81 mg of aspirin a day can protect health. The benefits include: a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and possibly breast cancer, but you should be sure that low-dose aspirin is the right therapy for you. Some people may experience side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding or distress. Seek a physician’s advice before starting low-dose aspirin therapy.