Harvard Heart Letter

Heart attack risk soars soon after losing a loved one

Some events in life—like the death of someone important to you—are impossible to prepare for. If you find yourself mourning a spouse, family member, or close friend, take time to take care of yourself. That's the bottom line from a new study by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

They found that a person's risk of having a heart attack skyrockets to 21 times its norm in the first day after the death of a beloved friend or family member. The heart attack rate remains eight times above normal during the first week, but then steadily declines over the course of a month. The physiological explanation for these findings is that intense emotions can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and the tendency for blood to clot—all of which raise the risk of a heart attack.

"It's quite rare to find a risk increase of this magnitude based on one factor," study author Dr. Murray Mittleman, director of BIDMC's Cardiovascular Epidemiological Research Program, told the Heart Letter.

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