Losing a loved one increases heart attack risk, says study

It seems you really can die from a broken heart, according to a new study. People who suffer the bereavement of a close loved one are more likely to have a heart attack in the days following.

Doctor testing senior man's heart
Doctor testing senior man's heart

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The newly bereaved are 21 times more likely to suffer a heart attack within the first day of a loved one dying - and six times more likely to suffer one within the first week, say researchers in America.

Intense grief can put an extra strain on the heart, say researchers, raising heart rate, blood pressure and blood clotting, which can lead to a higher risk of having a heart attack.
Grief can also affect a person's sleep and appetite and may lead to older people forgetting to take their medication.

Researchers suggest family and friends should be aware of the increased risk, and keep an eye, especially on older people with heart trouble, who have recently been bereaved.

Lead researcher Dr Murray Mittleman, of Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said: "During situations of extreme grief and psychological distress, you still need to take care of yourself and seek medical attention for symptoms associated with a heart attack.

"Caretakers, healthcare providers and the bereaved themselves need to recognise they are in a period of heightened risk in the days and weeks after hearing of someone close dying."

Prof Peter Weissberg of the British Heart Foundation said: "We're already aware that, under exceptional circumstances, emotional stress can trigger a heart attack.

"But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that heart attacks triggered by stress normally only happen in people with underlying heart disease. It's very important that if you're taking medication because you have, or are at high risk of, heart disease, don't neglect taking it following a significant bereavement."