Losing a loved one really 'can break your heart'

Pictorial representation onlyLosing a loved one can really break your heart -- in fact, the risk of an attack is significantly higher on first day of bereavement itself, say researchers.

A new study has found that the death of a loved one makes you up to 21 times more likely to suffer a heart attack within a day of your loss; and during the first week of bereavement, the risk is almost six times higher than normal.

However, the risk slowly declines during the month that follows, says the study published in 'Journal of the American Heart Association'.

Psychological stress caused by intense grief can increase heart rate, blood pressure and blood clotting, which in the short-term can raise the chances of a heart attack, say the researchers.

Dr Murray Mittleman of Harvard Medical School said: "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."

For the study, the researchers reviewed health charts and interviewed 1,985 patients while in hospital after a confirmed heart attack between 1989 and 1994.

Patients answered questions about circumstances surrounding their heart attack and whether they recently lost someone significant in their lives over the past year, when the death happened and the importance of their relationship.

The study found the increased risk of heart attack within the first week after the loss of a significant person ranged from one per 320 people at high risk to one per 1,394 people with a low heart attack risk, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

While after a significant person's death, heart attack risks rose to 21 times higher than normal during the first day, the risk was almost six times higher than normal in the first week, and declined steadily during the first months.

The study shows bereaved people at high risk of a heart attack before the loss occurred were four times more likely to succumb themselves than those previously at low risk.
Lead researcher Elizabeth Mostofsky said grieving people may neglect their own wellbeing, forgetting to take medication for heart and other medical problems.

She said: "Friends and family of bereaved people should provide close support to help prevent such incidents, especially near the beginning of the grieving process. 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."

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