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Bereaved adults vulnerable to heart attacks


Sydney : People traumatised by the loss of a loved one are more susceptible to a heart attack, says a new study.

The study, conducted by the Sydney University Medical School (SUMS), provides new insight into why people going through emotional stress caused by bereavement are more at risk from heart disease.

It involved 80 bereaved adults and is the most comprehensive of its type ever undertaken anywhere.

Thomas Buckley, study co-author and senior lecturer at SUMS nursing faculty, said the link between bereavement and heart attacks has not been well understood because no comprehensive study has been done in the first weeks after bereavement.

“CARBER (Cardiovascular Risk in Bereavement) is the first to look in detail at people during the first weeks immediately following their loss,” said Buckley, adding that across all age groups and both sexes, emotional and mood changes were greatest during this time.

“Overall the bereaved who participated in CARBER had increases in anxiety, depression and anger symptoms, together with elevated stress hormones and reduced sleep and appetite,” said Buckley.

“They also showed increases in blood pressure and heart rate, together with immune and blood clotting changes – all changes that could contribute towards a heart attack,” he said.

The study also found that most of the heart risks of bereavement faded after six months.

Geoffrey Tofler, cardiologist at SUMS and senior study investigator, says that at a time when the focus is naturally on the deceased person, this study shows the importance of maintaining the health of bereaved family members.

The results were published in the Internal Medicine Journal.