BOSTON A person's risk of suffering a heart attack increases by approximately 21 times in the first 24 hours after losing a loved one, according to a study lead by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
The study published Jan. 9 online in the journal Circulation found the risk of heart attack remained eight times above normal during the first week after the death of a loved one, slowly declining, but remaining elevated for at least a month.
Researchers interviewed approximately 2,000 patients who suffered myocardial infarctions, or heart attacks, over a five-year period. Patients were asked a series of questions about potentially triggering events, including losing someone close to them in the past year.
While there is widespread anecdotal evidence that the death of a loved one can lead to declining health in survivors, few studies have looked at the acute effect of bereavement and grief on myocardial infarction.
"Bereavement and grief are associated with increased feelings of depression, anxiety and anger, and those have been shown to be associated with increases in heart rate and blood pressure, and changes in the blood that make it more likely to clot, all of which can lead to a heart attack," says lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky, MPH, ScD, a post-doctoral fellow in the cardiovascular epidemiological unit at BIDMC.
"Some people would say a 'broken heart' related to the grief response is what leads to these physiologic changes," says senior author Murray Mittleman, MD, DrPH, a physician in the Cardiovascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of BIDMC's cardiovascular epidemiological research program. "So that emotional sense of the broken heart may actually lead to damage leading to a heart attack and a physical broken heart of a sort."
Mostofsky and Mittleman think that being aware of the
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Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center