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Broken Heart Syndrome

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Broken Heart Syndrome

There is another reason to worry about the living partner of someone who has recently passed away.  I know that close family and friends are always worried about the partner that survives because of depression and they always have questions related to: financial stability, how they will run a household, issues with children, etc. But there is one huge risk that has always been sort of a myth, and now it has shown to actually be true.



What is the scoop?
A study from Harvard (the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center), just published last week in the journal Circulation, they found that there truly is a Broke Heart Syndrome: The risk of suffering a heart attack increases by approximately 21% in the first 24 hours after losing a loved one.  And for the first week of your mourning  period, the risk of heart attack remains 8 times above normal, and it remains elevated for up to a month after, but the risk does slowly decline throughout that time period.  Over 2,000 people were interviewed after heart attacks over a five year period, asking about events that might trigger a heart attack, including losing a close loved one, and it was a positive risk factor for many of the people interviewed.

What actually happens?
When you are mourning the loss of a close loved one, there are many feelings that you might have related to your depression, such as stress, anxiety, and anger.   These feelings can lead to increase heart rate and blood pressure, and if you are already at risk for a heart attack, that can put you in a dangerous state.  As well, due to the stress response by the body, and all of the hormones that are released, your blood is at a higher risk to clot. This is basically the "trifecta" for a heart attack: easily clotting blood, increased heart rate,and elevated blood pressure.  Even those in optimal health would feel the strains on their body, but if you have any other medical history or any other risk factors, you are at a greatly increased risk for heart attack, just due to the loss of a loved one.

Can anything help?  
Of course, having the knowledge that this actually can, and does, occur is crucial to being able to prevent it, right?  So when you know someone who is going through this grief period or through a new loss, we need to make sure that they are getting medical attention, if they have any signs or symptoms of extreme stress, or if they have complaints of increased heart rate, and they should have their blood pressure checked if they are feeling unwell at all.  We need to make sure that they are getting their medical needs met.  Also strong social support and family at this crucial time can decrease the amount of stress: assisting with figuring out funeral arrangements, financial issues, making food, moving, and any other issue that may be leading to increased stress at this time. Showing love and support can go a long way, and keeping in tune with the person and their level of stress, can help save their life.  If you notice they aren't coping well, appear to be looking unwell, even if they don't say so to you, urge them to get help and to see their HCP so that we can make sure they are healthy and safe.

A family loss can be so difficult on everyone in their own ways, if you bond together instead of pulling apart, it can be healthy and helpful for everyone, and maybe save another life.

Yours in Good Health
B

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