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How Grief Affects Cardiovascular Health

Grief over loss affects heart health
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The death of your partner or spouse can break your heart. That’s more than a saying. The sudden disappearance of the person who shared your life — especially after many years or decades of togetherness — can shake your world and cause extreme stress. This loss also can be a devastating blow to your heart health. Multiple studies have found that the odds of experiencing a heart attack or stroke increase substantially after this major heartbreak.

Examining Bereavement’s Influence

At St. George’s University of London, researchers investigated mourning as a cardiovascular risk factor. They compared heart attack and stroke rates of 30,447 people who were over 60 years old when their partners died to 83,588 control subjects whose spouses remained alive. The study showed that 16 of every 10,000 people who lost partners had heart attacks or strokes over the next 30 days, compared to 8 in the control group. Beyond 30 days, the elevated risk began to drop among widowed participants. People say they have a broken heart to describe the overwhelming pain that occurs when they lose a loved one. This study demonstrates how sorrow can affect heart health directly, notes co-author Dr. Sunil Shah. He hopes his findings will reinforce how social and psychological factors influence severe cardiovascular events, which could enhance preventative and clinical care. Researcher Dr. Iain Carey reports that acute grief probably causes adverse physiological reactions, which are responsible for the significantly increased heart attack and stroke risks that occur within a month of partner deaths. A study revealed that loneliness increases the premature death odds among seniors. It discovered that the early death effects of extreme loneliness are almost equal to socioeconomic disadvantages. Previous studies showed that partner deaths and bereavement can alter heart rate control, blood clotting, and blood pressure. Another study found survivors may not take preventive medications like cholesterol-lowering drugs and aspirin consistently during their first few months of despair. Shah emphasizes the importance of doctors, family, and friends being aware that these related factors can increase cardiovascular event risks. One key drug could be Lopressor (Metoprolol Tartrate), a beta-blocker for hypertension, angina, and abnormal heart rhythms that also prevents or treats heart attacks.

Exploring Accelerated Heart Attack Risk

Boston, Massachusetts researchers determined that the heart attack incidence rate immediately after a loved one’s death rose significantly, especially within 24 hours. Strong emotions including anxiety and depression that arise with sorrow might contribute to this heart attack upsurge, according to lead author Dr. Elizabeth Mostofsky. Cardiologist Dr. Richard Fogoros explains that during this initial mourning period, heart attack risk increases 21-fold. It remains five to 10 times greater than normal for a minimum of one to two week after the loved one’s death. This increased risk is particularly significant for people who suffer from cardiovascular disease or have risk factors that warrant high-risk classifications. Mostofsky says that the stress of heartache can:
  • Increase stress hormones levels
  • Elevate blood pressure
  • Accelerate heart rate
  • Narrow blood vessels
  • Disturb cholesterol-filled plaques lining your coronary arteries
Any of these variations can raise your heart attack risk by making your blood tackier and thus more apt to clot. Intense stress increases hormones that make platelets stick together. When plaques burst, resulting clots are more prone to stop blood flow to your heart. Mostofsky’s research team found that grieving the loss of a spouse or partner isn’t the only death that affects heart health. Subjects who had lost parents, children, siblings, close friends, or distant relatives experienced similar outcomes. Heartbreaking grief may cause a rare cardiac problem, warns cardiologist Dr. Marc Gillinov of the Cleveland Clinic. Extremely stressful occurrences including the loss of your loved one, a car wreck, major surgery, and serious asthma attack can bring on Broken Heart Syndrome or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. This reversible and usually temporary condition resembles a heart attack but isn’t. Prognosis is exceptional with under 10 percent of patients experiencing recurrences.

Revealing Coping Tips

Mourning a lost love is important. But the strain of restructuring well-established couple habits can take physical and mental tolls. Victoria Hospice Society and Harvard’s Dr. Michael Miller offer helpful suggestions to deal with bereavement and care for yourself:
  • Honor the deceased’s memory in special ways.
  • Realize that you’re the best expert on your personal suffering. Only you can define your unique experience. Remember that you’re doing your best during a difficult situation.
  • Join grief support groups CanadianPharmacyMeds.comExpress your feelings. Participate in grief support activities. Other survivors who’ve experienced similar losses will understand your feelings. Or document your emotions and memories privately by journaling.
  • Focus on your health more than your loss. You’ll feel better if you maintain your medication routine, eat healthy, and exercise daily.
  • Welcome and seek help and support. Allow others to do everyday chores like preparing meals and providing transportation. Appreciate comfort and emotional support from good listeners.
  • Be sociable. Continuing personal relationships, family traditions, and group activities can promote healing.
  • Take time. Give your devastation one year to subside. If it lingers or you haven’t recaptured your interest in former activities, a medical or mental health provider can help you overcome your pain and possible related depression.

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