The intense emotional pain of losing a spouse can take a terrible toll psychologically, especially in the case of couples that have been in long-term marriages. But can grief actually trigger a heart attack?
Science has recently confirmed what our intuition has long suspected: broken-heart syndrome is real. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, a grieving person’s risk for a heart attack is 21 times higher than normal the day after a loved one dies. The risk of an attack declines over time but remains elevated within the first month. For this reason, if a married person loses a spouse it is critical that they pay attention to their health, especially the symptom of chest pain.
In addition, older studies indicate that in the weeks and months after the loss of a spouse, grief can lead to greater heart and mortality risks. The researchers interviewed nearly 2,000 people hospitalized for heart attacks over a five-year period and controlled for variables such as a history of disease. Counter-intuitively, individuals with no history of coronary history were most vulnerable to broken-heart syndrome. This longitudinal study also pointed out the obvious: bereavement often leads to anxiety and depression, which are known elevate heart rate, increase blood pressure, and increase blood clotting.
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