Grief strains the heart

Growing risk of heart attack due to grief: Grief gets the heart out of rhythm

The grief over the loss of a close person literally strains the heart. Therefore, survivors should pay special attention to their hearts and counteract the increased risk with preventive measures. Australian researchers have found that the death of a loved one affects not only the psyche but also the body of the bereaved. Some time after the death of a particularly close person, such as a life partner or their own child, the mourners' heart rate is measurably increased.

Grief - mental and physical stress It has long been undisputed in the medical community that the bereaved are at increased risk of a heart attack or sudden cardiac death. However, what has been clearly proven based on older studies and medical statistics has so far been insufficiently scientifically explained. This is where study leader Thomas Buckley and his research colleagues from the University of Sydney started their investigation in order to find out the causes of the increased risk of heart attack and to clarify the period over which the effects of grief on the heart last.

Comprehensive medical examination of 78 survivors As part of their study, the Australian scientists examined 78 survivors (55 men; 23 women) aged 33 to 91 who had to cope with the loss of their life partner or their own child. Two weeks after the stroke of fate and six months afterwards, the health of the test subjects was examined closely with the help of a 24-hour heart rate monitor. In addition, the susceptibility of subjects to anxiety attacks and clinical depression was extensively investigated. A corresponding number of volunteers who had no comparable bereavement served as a control group.

Increased heart rate due to bereavement When examined two weeks after the loss of the loved one, the heart of the bereaved beat an average of 75.1 times per minute compared to 70.7 times in the control group. Accordingly, the average heart rate increased by almost five beats per minute. In addition, the study found that shortly after the bereavement, survivors had phases with a very fast heartbeat (more than 100 beats per minute) almost twice as often as people in the control group. Anxiety attacks and depression to be treated clinically were also significantly more common among mourners than in the control group. During the subsequent examination six months after the bereavement, the heart rate of the bereaved had returned to normal and the risk of anxiety attacks and depression had clearly decreased. However, the anxiety attacks and depression did not return to the normal level of the control group, but their number always increased.

Protecting the heart during the mourning period According to study leader Thomas Buckley at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Chicago, your study shows that there is a connection between the loss of particularly close people and changed heart functions, which ultimately leads to an increased risk of heart attack. Therefore, according to the experts, the bereaved should pay closer attention to their hearts during the mourning period and take appropriate precautionary measures. Risk factors such as increased stress, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking should be reduced or at best avoided altogether. The Australian researchers emphasize that further studies of the exact relationship between grief and heart disease have the potential to form the basis of more effective preventive measures in the future. (fp)

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