Grief Linked to Raised Heart Attack Risk
Last updated:January 10, 2012
Ever heard anecdotal tales of a new widow who collapsed and died within hours of her mate? Or of the bereaved who suffered heart attacks at the funeral? New research in Circulation: The Journal of the American Heart Association, shows that the risk of a heart attack is 21 times higher on the first day after the death of a close loved one. The risk stays elevated -- six times higher than normal -- throughout the first week after the death.
The risk continued to fall over time but was still elevated a month into the bereavement.
It's the first study to focus specifically on the odds of a heart attack immediately following bereavement, according to the heart.org.
"Bereaved individuals and their family and friends should be aware of the heightened risk in the days and weeks after hearing of someone close dying," physician Elizabeth Mostofsky of Harvard Medical School told heartwire.
The impact is highest for those already at highest risk for cardiovascular events. Psychological stress can raise heart rate and increase blood pressure and coagulation. The newly bereaved are also less likely to eat or sleep well and may be taking medications that contribute to the problem.
But the researchers said they can't rule out the possibility that even without underlying heart-conditions, people are at risk of heart attack in grief. They even have a name for it: "broken heart syndrome."