Understanding the Medical Science Behind a “Broken Heart”

By @Len_IBTimes on

When a serious emotional injury strikes, you feel your heart ache, but what does it mean to your physiological well-being?

A recent study published on January 9 in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association has confirmed that a metaphorical broken heart is actually bad for the health.

The study found that a person's heart attack risk is 21 times higher than normal the day after a loved one dies, the New York Times reported.

While this level of risk drops over time, the risk remains relatively higher within a month from the onset of serious and heavy grieving.

Elizabeth Mostofsky, the lead author of the paper, explained their findings should warn families and friends against taking the most basic signs of a heart attack for granted.

"If a bereaved person is having symptoms like chest pain, they shouldn't simply say, 'Oh, I'm dealing with the stress right now' and ignore it," she told the Times.

Dr. Mostofsky's study is the first in-depth and scientific look at the immediate effects of a grieving heart.

MedicalNewsToday.com ran a story on Dr. Mostofsky's findings and took another medical point of view.

"Caretakers, healthcare providers, and the bereaved themselves need to recognize they are in a period of heightened risk in the days and weeks after hearing of someone close dying," said Murray Mittleman, M.D., Dr.P.H., a preventive cardiologist and epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and School of Public Health's epidemiology department in Boston, Mass.

The study is done in large scale, as nearly 2,000 participants were asked to take part in the research method. All the participants were hospitalized for heart attacks over a five-year period and controlled for variables like health and history of disease.

The study's approach eliminated the possibilities of confusion in comparing the situations among different people. The authors also estimated the relative risk of a heart attack by comparing the number of patients who had someone close to them die in the week before their heart attack, to the number of deaths of significant people in their lives from one to six months before their heart attack.

While one could expect that those with previous heart risk factors were more vulnerable to another strike, the odds of a heart attack also increased even for those with no medical history of heart problems.

Dr. Mostofsky explained that grieving could provoke depression, anger and anxiety, all of which can have adverse effects on one's heart rate and blood pressure and increase blood clotting.

Heart attack signs include chest discomfort, upper body or stomach pain, shortness of breath, breaking into a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.

Co-authors Elizabeth Mostofsky, M.P.H, Sc.D.; Malcolm Maclure, Sc.D.; Jane Sherwood, R.N.; Geoffrey Tofler, M.D.; and James Muller, M.D. recommend a more in depth study of the issues, the Medical News Today reported.

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