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You can actually die of a broken heart

New research has confirmed that the broken heart syndrome is real.

Scientists at St George’s University in London have discovered that the risk of heart failure and stroke doubles in the first month after bereavement and raises the risk of death by 25 per cent in the first year.

The peak is the first three months after which the risk begins to decline.

They came to these findings after analysing data on 30,000 bereaved patients aged between 60 and 89, and comparing it to results from 84,000 people whose partners were still alive.

Toxic effects

They found that in addition to increased risk of stroke and heart attack within the first 30 days, the risk of blood clots in the lungs was two and a half times greater. These risks were higher in widowers than widows.

Explaining these findings which have been published in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, Sunil Shah, lead researcher, said the devastation of losing a partner makes a person overlook his or her own problems.

In the first few months after bereavement, individuals do not consistently take their regular preventative medicine like aspirin or cholesterol lowering drugs.

A sudden interruption contributes to the risk of cardiovascular illnesses.

Also, bereavement and grief can lead to a range of adverse psychological responses, including blood clotting, high blood pressure, increases stress hormone levels and heart rate, all which can contribute to increased risk of heart attacks or stroke.

Finally, in exceptional circumstances, the stress and the grief itself experienced following a death can be enough trigger for a heart attack or stroke, especially in people with underlying heart disease.

“Adrenaline and other hormones are good at low and medium doses because they cause the heart to pump faster and harder but in some people very high levels of adrenaline have toxic effects on the heart,” she said.

Being aware of these possibilities should drive doctors and friends to ensure that bereaved individuals are taken care of as well as possible during this very vulnerable time.