A long-term study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has confirmed what 16th century poets have known all along: heartbreak can be deadly.
A husband dies and his wife dies just days later. A mother suffers a massive heart attack after the loss of her child. It's a tragic phenomenon that speaks to the strong bonds between humans and according to new research, it's even more common than previously believed.
Past studies have linked heart problems with the grieving period after a loved one dies. Japanese cardiologists first identified the phenomenon in 1990. This new report, however, suggests that a grieving person is 21 times more susceptible to a heart attack right after the death of a beloved.
Doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston tracked 2,000 heart attack patients over a period of five years. While they found that patients with a history of heart problems were more prone to attacks, even those with perfectly strong hearts were at risk for potentially deadly attacks in the immediate days after a close friend, partner or family member passed.
Considering the exceptional emotions triggered from grief-depression, rage, debilitating anxiety-it makes sense. Elevated heart rates, spiking blood pressure, a rush of stress hormones and adrenaline, and an increased likelihood of blood clots, are all physical side effects of the existential emotional havoc.
The risk is particularly great for women. A separate study, released in November, found that females are on average 7.5 times more likely than men to have a heart attack in the early stages of grieving. The number rises to 9.5 for women under 55. According to Dr. Abhiram Prasad, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist: "It's the only cardiac condition where there's such a female preponderance." What they can't understand is why women are more prone to the condition. Maybe they should consult the Bard for answers.