Providing further evidence of the impact of emotions on health, researchers found that bereavement from the death of a loved one may cause elevated or irregular heart rates for up to 6 months after the loss, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2010 held in Chicago. These changes can increase risk of heart attack or sudden cardiac death. “While the focus at the time of bereavement is naturally directed toward the deceased person, the health and welfare of bereaved survivors should also be of concern to medical professionals, as well as to family and friends,” said lead study researcher Thomas Buckley, PhD, acting director of postgraduate studies at the University of Sydney Nursing School, Sydney, Australia.
Researchers studied 78 spouses and parents, between the ages of 33 and 91 years, within 2 weeks of the death of a spouse or child and again after 6 months. The results were then compared with data from a group of volunteers who had not lost a loved one. A study limitation was that all the bereaved had lost family members who were being treated in hospital critical-care units prior to death, so the findings should not be generalized to those whose loved ones died in hospices or other situations.
“While our findings do not establish causality, they are consistent with evidence for psychosocial triggering of cardiovascular events,” said Buckley. “They suggest the need for further investigation of the link between bereavement and cardiovascular risk, including the potential for preventive measures.”