Losing a loved one is quite possibly the worst thing that humans have to endure. Anecdotal stories abound about people who died very shortly after their spouse passed away, but now science is catching up to these accounts. According to researchers, it is now proven that losing a loved one greatly increases the risk of death from a heart attack or a stroke. The new study was published in the journal JAMA.
The study was very large, and included over 100,000 senior citizens. Researchers involved in the study say the reason for the finding is twofold. First, they say, people often quit taking their preventative medications right after the death of a loved one because they either forget or are so stressed that they are not able to function normally. In the absence of their medicines, blood pressure and preexisting heart disease can flare up dramatically.
Secondly, losing a loved one causes physical changes in the body due to a huge flood of stress hormones, namely adrenaline, which can become toxic in some people. These stress hormones can cause abnormal blood clotting, which leads to an increased risk of death from heart attack stroke. The same hormones can raise blood pressure and interfere with proper control of the heart rate. Lead researcher Dr. Sunil Shah explains:
There is evidence, from other studies, that the bereavement and grief lead to a range of adverse physiological responses including changes in blood clotting, blood pressure, stress hormone levels and heart rate control.
These physical changes create a profound change in the normal functioning of the body. The risk lasts for about a month after the loss. While it seems like extraordinarily bad news to have to worry about during the worst moments humans can experience in their lives, there is a bit of a silver lining: the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke shortly after losing a loved one returns to normal relatively quickly after that first 30 days. Within one year, the risk levels showed no significant difference from the control group.
The new study backs up previous research. Last year, the journal Circulation published a peer-reviewed study that showed that those who had recently lost a loved one faced a heart attack risk that was 20 times greater than those who had not recently suffered such a loss.
Researchers involved in the study say the most important information to take away from their work is for people close to the bereaved person to make sure they take their normal medications on schedule. If a regular medical routine is followed, it could possibly reduce the risk faced by those who have recently suffered the loss of a loved one.
Losing a loved one greatly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, but the good news is that steps can be taken to decrease this risk. Getting adequate rest, surrounding the bereaved person with a support system, and ensuring that they never forget their medications are all strategies to ensure the best chance of good physical health, especially in the first month after the loss.
By: Rebecca Savastio