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Mar 07, 2014

Losing a Loved One Can Increase Heart Attack and Stroke Risk

While losing a spouse doubles 30-day risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a new study, the risk is still very low.

You really can die of a broken heart, according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Conducted in the United Kingdom, this study included more than 30,000 older adults between 60-89 years old who lost a partner between 2005 and 2012. Researchers followed participants for up to a year to see who suffered heart attack or stroke and compared their cardiovascular risk to similar individuals who had not lost a loved one during this time.

After analysis, researchers found that adults who lost a loved one had more than double the risk of having a heart attack or stroke within 30 days of their partner’s death. Adults who lost their partner had 2.1 times greater risk of having a heart attack and 2.4 times greater risk of stroke compared to those who did not lose a loved one.

The good news? Cardiovascular risk in both groups was very low. During the first 30-day study period, risk of heart attack and stroke was 0.16% in the bereaved group and 0.08% among those who hadn’t lost a loved one. That means that the number of heart attacks and strokes caused by losing a loved one is extremely low. Also, when older adults lost their partner, cardiovascular risk only increased temporarily. After 30 days, risk for heart attack and stroke were similar among adults who lost a partner and those who hadn’t.

Still, authors are intrigued by these findings. Although we don’t understand exactly how mental health impacts our hearts, this study demonstrates that there is a clear link between the two. While researchers acknowledge that individuals may neglect their own health after losing a loved one, there’s no denying that grief can have a physical impact on our overall health. And to help prevent adverse consequences during bereavement, additional research is needed to better understand the relationship between mental and cardiovascular health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Are mental health and heart health related?
  • Although additional research is needed on the topic, there is a clear link between mental health and cardiovascular health. Many studies have suggested that having a positive attitude or outlook on life may reduce cardiovascular risk, while high stress levels and depression can increase risk for heart disease. As a result, it’s important to work with your doctor on improving both mental and physical health to reduce cardiovascular risk.

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