Heart Attack Risk Rose After Loss of Loved One

Heart related risk increased after the death of a partner

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) There are few things more difficult than grieving for the loss of a loved one. A new study shows that this loss may, quite literally, increase the risk for a broken heart.

This new study found that the risk of heart attack and stroke increased substantially for 30 days after the loss of a partner.

The authors of this study wrote that the risk of heart attack and stroke returned to normal levels after one year.

"Seek out the support of others in a time of grieving."

This study was led by Iain M. Carey, MSc, PhD, of the Division of Population Health Sciences and Education at St George’s University of London in England.

Dr. Carey and colleagues looked at the heart health of close family members during their period of grieving after losing a loved one, also known as the bereavement period.

The participants were identified in The Health Improvement Network, which collects patient data from more than 400 general practices in the United Kingdom.

The research team studied more than 30,447 participants who had lost a partner from February 2005 to September 2012 and were between 60 and 89 years of age. The team also identified a large control group of 83,588 participants during the same period who had not lost a partner, for comparison.

The study showed that 0.16 percent of participants who had lost a loved one within the last 30 days experienced a heart attack or stroke, while only 0.08 percent of the control group was diagnosed with  the same.

Dr. Carey and team concluded that there was an increased risk of heart attack and stroke during the bereavement period but that the overall risk remained low among both groups.

"Love is a matter of the heart, both physical and spiritual," said Sarah Samaan, MD, FACC, of Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas.

"This study makes it clear that losing a loved one can have important effects of heart health. Although it doesn't explain why that happens, it's likely that the acute grief and loss cause elevated blood pressure and heart rate, higher levels of stress hormones, and aggravation of unhealthy coping behaviors like overeating and smoking," Dr. Samaan told dailyRx News.

"Grieving people may also be less likely to seek medical care for heart attack symptoms. While the physical reactions we all have to the loss of a loved one are natural, they are not always healthy, and symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath should never be ignored," she said.

Dr. Carey and colleagues acknowledged that their study was limited by the inclusion of same sex couples only and that further study is needed to expand the research to other segments of the population.

This study was published April 7 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

This study was funded by The Dunhill Medical Trust.

The authors made no disclosures.

Review Date: 
April 7, 2014
Last Updated:
April 10, 2014