Individuals may experience a heightened risk of heart attack following the death of a loved one, according to a new study. Mostofsky et al. (2012) conducted an analysis of heart attack patients from the Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study. Of the 1,985 participants, 270 (13.6%) reported the death of at least one significant person in the 6 months preceding heart attack symptom onset. Correspondingly, 19 experienced the death of a significant person within 24 hours of heart attack onset, 7 reported a death within 24 to 48 hours, 5 reported a death within 48 to 72 hours, and 4 reported a death within 4 to 7 days. Heart attack risk was elevated 21.1-fold (95% Ci-13.1-34.1) within 24 hours after the death of a loved one, particularly if participants reported the death as moderately or significantly meaningful. The risk declined each preceding day but remained significantly elevated for the following month.
Emotional stressors may be an important reason for the elevated risk. Episodes of anger, anxiety and depression in the 2 hours before heart attack onset resulted in a 2.3-fold, 1.6-fold and 4.33-fold risk, respectively. Reduced sleep time, reduced appetite, lower total cholesterol and lower-density lipoprotein levels, higher cortisol levels are all thought to be contributing factors.
During the bereavement period, people at risk for heart disease need to take particular caution. Based on their calculations, researchers predicted one excess heart attack per 3543 exposed individuals for those at low risk, compared with one excess heart attack per 1725 individuals at intermediate risk, and one excess heart attack per 815 individuals at high risk.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is always difficult. For patients at risk for heart disease, social support may be particularly important during this tumultuous time.
Have you ever had a heart attack? Help others by sharing your heart attack experience. Please take the Yale Heart Study Survey.