Beth Israel Study: You Can Die of a Broken Heart

September 3, 2013

Originally published Feb. 13, 2012

Grief puts patients at higher risk of a heart attack, doctors at Beth Israel Deaconness have found. In other words, you can die of a broken heart.

Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center   have found that grieving patients have a 21 times greater heart attack risk in the 24 hours after losing a loved one, and that the risk of heart attacks remains elevated for at least a month. It is one of the first studies to examine the anecdotal evidence that spouses and others who lose a loved one can face declining health and premature death.

The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and published online in the journal Circulation, included 2,000 patients who suffered heart attacks over a five-year period. Patients were asked questions about potentially triggering events, including losing someone close to them in the past year.

"Bereavement and grief are associated with increased feelings of depression, anxiety and anger, and those have been shown to be associated with increases in heart rate and blood pressure, and changes in the blood that make it more likely to clot, all of which can lead to a heart attack," lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky said in a statement.
Awareness of the increased risk may help patients and their doctors prevent heart attacks and pay attention to warning signs. Researchers said that social support during the first month following the loss of a loved one could help mitigate the increased risk.

Reprinted with permission of the Boston Business Journal