Study finds increased cardiovascular risk after death of loved one

Ever hear an anecdotal story of someone who “died of a broken heart?”

It seems that people who suffer the loss of a loved one are actually at an increased risk for potentially fatal cardiovascular events, according to a new study out of the University of Sydney Nursing School in Australia. Per the study, the risk of irregular heartbeat and, more worryingly, sudden cardiac death, increases for six months following the death of a spouse or child. A study author commented on the findings:

“While the focus at the time of bereavement is naturally directed toward the deceased person, the health and welfare of bereaved survivors should also be of concern to medical professionals, as well as family and friends,” study lead author Thomas Buckley, acting director of postgraduate studies at the University of Sydney Nursing School in Sydney, Australia, said in an American Heart Association news release.

Buckley added:

“Some bereaved, especially those already at increased cardiovascular risk, might benefit from medical review, and they should seek medical assistance for any possible cardiac symptoms.”

The physiological reasons behind the data were not known, but a higher level of stress and depression in the 78 people monitored for the study was thought to be a factor. Participants ranged in age from 33 to 91, including 55 women and 23 men from the initial two-week period after their spouse or child died.

Buckley suggested the link between psychological trauma and cardiovascular risk be examined further to protect those at risk:

“While our findings do not establish causality, they are consistent with evidence for psychosocial triggering of cardiovascular events,” said Buckley. “They suggest the need for further investigation of the link between bereavement and cardiovascular risk, including the potential for preventive measures.”