Losing Loved One Increases Heart Attack Risk
- Reported, January 12, 2012
Newswire) – Losing a close loved one, spouse, child, sibling, parent, or a
friend is never easy. Now new research suggests that the days and weeks
following the death of a close loved may increase one’s risk of having a heart
Psychological stress caused by intense grief can increase heart rate, blood
pressure and blood clotting, which can raise the chance of a heart attack.
Murray Mittleman, M.D., Dr. P.H., a preventative cardiologist and epidemiologist
at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and School of
Public health’s epidemiology department in Boston, Massachusetts and colleagues
performed the first study to focus on heart attack risk during the first few
days and weeks after the death of someone close. The study consisted of 1, 985
adult heart attack survivors who suffered their heart attack after losing a
significant person. The study discovered that heart risks were 21 times higher
than normal within the first day; almost six times higher than normal within the
first week; and continued to decline steadily over the first month following the
In an earlier research, as part of the Multicenter Determinants of MI Onset
Study, researchers reviewed charts and interviewed patients while in the
hospital after suffering a confirmed heart attack between 1989 and 1994. The
patients answered several questions concerning the circumstances surrounding
their heart attack, as well as, whether they recently lost someone significant
in the past year, and the importance of that relationship. The researchers used
a case crossover design to compare patients over the past six months. The
approach eliminated the possible confounding factors of comparing different
people. They also eliminated the relative risk of a heart attack by comparing
the number of patients who had someone close to them die in the week before
their heart attack to the number of deaths of significant people in their lives
from one to six months before their heart attack. These researchers also found
that grieving spouses have a much higher long-term risks of dying with heart
disease or strokes, accounting for up to 53 percent of deaths.
Mittleman and his colleagues found that the increased risk of heart attack
within the first week after the loss of a significant person ranges from one per
320 people with a high heart attack risk to one per 1,394 people with a low
heart attack risk.
"Caretakers, healthcare providers, and the bereaved themselves need to recognize
they are in a period of heightened risk in the days and weeks after hearing of
someone close dying," Mittleman was quoted as saying. Also at the beginning of
the grieving process, people tend to neglect to properly taking care of
themselves, often experiencing higher levels of cortisol, sleeping less, not
eating correctly or not eating at all, or forgetting to take their necessary
"Friends and family of bereaved people should provide close support to help
prevent such incidents, especially near beginning of the grieving process,"
Elizabeth Mostofsky, one of Mittleman colleagues and the lead author of the
research, was quoted as saying.
Similarly, medical professionals should be aware that the bereaved are at much
higher risk for heart attacks than usual.
SOURCE: American Heart Association Journal Report, January 2012