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22 February 2024

Loss of loved one boosts cardiac attack risk


Grief over the death of a loved one can cause a huge spike in a person's risk of heart attack, especially in the early days after the loss, US researchers say.

They tracked nearly 2000 adults who survived a heart attack and found that among those who had just lost a loved one the risk of a heart attack soared 21 times in the first day.

The risk rate remained six times higher than normal through the first week and declined slowly over the course of the first month, according to a report in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Intense grief can cause a host of symptoms that raise heart risks, including higher heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormone levels and increased blood clotting.

Grieving people are also prone to lose sleep, miss medications and eat less, which can boost cardiovascular risks.

"Friends and family of bereaved people should provide close support ... especially near the beginning of the grieving process," said Elizabeth Mostofsky, lead author of the research.

Previous studies have shown that grieving spouses have a higher risk of dying over the long term, with heart disease and strokes accounting for up to 53 per cent of deaths.

The latest study is believed to be the first to examine the short-term risk of heart attack after a loved one's death.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and School of Public Health's epidemiology department in Boston, Massachusetts, arrived at the estimates by reviewing charts and patient interviews after a heart attack.