Grief triggers heart attack

g222Dying of a broken heart >  The death of a loved one raises the risk of a heart attack by 21 times in the first 24 hours, according to a new study. The researchers also found that mourners are six times more likely than normal to have an attack in the first week of bereavement.

The study has found that psychological stress, such as that caused by intense grief, can increase heart rate, blood pressure and blood clotting, which raise the chances of a coronary thrombosis.

At the beginning of the grieving process, people are more likely to experience less sleep, low appetite and higher cortisol levels, which can also increase the risks.

Broken Heart Syndrome

The study also found that the chances of having what has become known as ‘broken heart syndrome’, depend on someone’s general state of health. The risk was strongest among people who had pre-existing risk factors for heart disease and heart attacks, such as high blood pressure or unhealthy cholesterol levels.g111

Of course, Tonic’s therapists speak to many callers who are going through the bereavement process, but this research shows how devastating the impact of the death of someone close to you can be.

To quote C.S. Lewis, “The death of a beloved is an amputation.”  By talking more openly about dying, death and bereavement, society can make it easier to provide support to people who have lost someone close to them and can ensure their own health does suffer.

So the key message is – don’t bottle up your emotions. Share your feelings with friends or seek bereavement counselling.  Also the UK Care Guide offers practical tips for the bereaved.

Footnote > The study, carried out as part of the multi-centre Determinants of MI Onset Study, is the first to examine heart attack risk in the immediate aftermath of a bereavement; this is linked to Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

21 thoughts on “Grief triggers heart attack

  1. c-court says:

    I think you are talking about Stress Cardiomyopathy, or Broken Heart Syndrome as it is more commonly known.
    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. 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.

  2. Peter Thomas says:

    The sad fact is that death remains a taboo subject in Britain. Check out the Dying Matters Coalition website and you will see that the majority of people are uncomfortable discussing dying and death. Few people discuss with their partner the type of funeral they want. Although most people are scared of dying, quality of life is viewed as more important than how long we live for. The most common age at which people would like to die is aged 81-90.
    The older people get, the more likely they are to think that quality of life is more important than the age they live to, with 81% of people aged 65 or over saying this.

  3. Dr K.Adams-Smith says:

    People will do all they can to avoid talking about dying. As a GP I know that many people are frightened to talk about dying, but avoiding the subject is not in any of our interests.
    Ultimately my patients find talking to a health professional about end of life care is of immense help – they just have to overcome the initial barrier of being open on such a sensitive subject.

  4. Harry Light (Epsom) says:

    It is true that some people die in the few days after a sudden, devastating loss. A rush of overwhelming fear or extreme pain are the types of shock that might also lead to catastrophic heart failure. But it is not just bad emotions that can trigger the condition – it could equally be the shock of intense, unexpected happiness, such as winning the lottery. You can’t win either way!

  5. Julia in Stafford says:

    The trigger for this syndrome – Takotsubo cardiomyopathy – is the body’s sudden, massive release of adrenaline, which can stun the bottom half of the main pumping chamber of the heart, in effect paralysing it and requiring the top portion of the chamber to work much harder to compensate.
    The good news is that survival rates for anyone discharged from hospital having suffered the condition are pretty much 100%. The bad news is that it is hard to diagnose in the first place as many of the typical symptoms indicate a standard heart attack caused by a blockage to a coronary artery. This means the patient may die due to a misdiagnosis. As your previous Blogger said – you just can’t win.

    • Jason (trainee medic) says:

      About 2% of the 300,000 heart attacks in the UK each year will in fact be broken heart syndrome. The only reason we know about the syndrome now is because people presenting with heart attack symptoms can have coronary angiograms soon after their chest pain begins.
      To a cardiologist, a heart attack means a blocked coronary artery, but in this condition we find the coronary arteries are open and the blood supply is fine. We then look at the pumping chamber and it is paralysed, plus it has become an abnormal shape – it looks like a Japanese fisherman’s octopus pot, called Takotsubo, hence its name.

  6. an unhealthy male says:

    About 90% of diagnosed broken heart syndrome cases are in post-menopausal women, which begs the question, why are men not getting it? Possibly because they are suffering from the condition, but collapse and die before reaching hospital and medical attention. Put simply, men drop down dead if they have a big stress, whereas women recover. Taking up the point made by earlier Bloggers, guess it would thus be better to die having just won the lottery – though that would be so annoying!

  7. Grace says:

    After I lost my husband I experienced aches and pains all over my body. The emotional trauma was overwhelming. The thing that kept me going were words from a friend who lost his father when he was a child. He told me that he tried to live his life and be the person his Father would have wanted him to be.
    For me I have tried to live my life and do things that he knew I always wanted to do while keeping true to the values he admired. I cannot think of a greater tribute to a lovely person. My thoughts are with anybody who faces this situation. But stick with it – you and they are worth it.

  8. Jamie Jones says:

    In New Zealand it was reported that in the week following the February 2011 earthquakes more than 20 women – no men, which was interesting – had died of heart failure. These women had no history of heart disease and their hearts were found to be perfectly healthy, but they just stopped. It is terribly sad.

  9. Clive Morris (therapist) says:

    The term “broken heart syndrome” came about after researchers noticed that many people with the condition were grieving. Some people start having symptoms at a funeral, while others have just gone through a trauma like a car accident or a mugging.
    In such circumstances your body unleashes a flood of chemicals, including adrenaline. This sudden flood can stun your heart muscle, leaving it unable to pump properly. So even though broken heart syndrome may feel like a heart attack, it is a different problem that needs a different type of treatment.

  10. Peggy says:

    When my son died, the pain was so intense that, although I had no thoughts of self-harm, I could not see how I could possibly keep living through it. Even a year on, though the pain has diminished it is still palpable. I now no longer fear death. I will do what I can to still live a long healthy life, but, to me, death means a final coming back together with my beloved son.

  11. research paper services says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I think you need to study a lot more information on this subject to be able to have exactly rely on this opinion. I think that it will take some time.

  12. I was really surprised by this article! I heard that insomnia and intense worrying can cause a heart attack but grief, I can’t even believe.

  13. I absolutely agree with that you have to let go your emotions and share it with oyur friends.

  14. Linda says:

    Hi! I’m so sorry to hear such sad stories. How have you identified the common symptoms of a heart attack? This is a serious medical emergency that requires extremely fast reaction! Take care, guys! Warm wishes

  15. NormanJackson says:

    I am really sorry to hear your sad stories. You’re right saying that the death of the loved one raises the risk of a heart attack. Therefore, be careful. It’s dangerous to worry!

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