MONDAY, Jan. 9 (HealthDay News) -- There really is such a thing as heartbreaking grief, suggests new research that finds losing a loved one can increase the risk of heart attack.
Within a day of a significant other's death, heart attack risk was 21 times higher than normal, said researchers who looked at data on nearly 2,000 heart attack patients. And within the first week after death, the heart attack risk for the bereaved was still six times greater than usual.
"Extreme grief can trigger heart attacks," said lead researcher Dr. Murray Mittleman, director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
"For at least a month the risk remains elevated and likely stays up even longer," he added.
The stress and anxiety of losing someone close can trigger heart-damaging biological processes, Mittleman explained.
"All of this can cause a physiologic response with an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and also can cause changes that makes blood a little bit more sticky," he said. "This can increase the risk of having a heart attack."
After a death, it is important for immediate family members and friends to be aware of this connection and watch for signs of distress, Mittleman suggested.
"When an individual is grief-stricken, they often ignore their own needs and may not be as compliant with medication, may not take care of themselves as well," he said.
If the bereaved individual develops unusual physical symptoms, "don't assume it's just stress and anxiety; it may be a heart attack and should be taken very seriously," Mittleman warned. These symptoms include chest or stomach pain, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness or a sudden, cold sweat.
The report was published in the Jan. 9 online edition of Circulation.
Mittleman's team collected
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