Death of Partner Linked with Increased Risk of Heart
Attack, Stroke in Seniors for 30 Days
Large study concludes bereavement does greatly
increase risk but it is still small
Feb. 24, 2014 – A large study has confirmed what
many have suspected – the risk of a heart attack or stroke increases
during the 30 days following the death of a partner, at least for
seniors. But, the good news from this large study is that only a small
fraction of surviving partners suffers these potentially deadly events.
The bad news is that the risk is about double of that for those not
suffering from this bereavement.
Bereavement has been recognized as a risk factor
for death and associated with cardiovascular events but not confirmed by
a study of this size.
Iain M. Carey, M.Sc., Ph.D., of St. George’s
University of London, and colleagues compared the rate of myocardial
infarction (MI, heart attack) or stroke in 30,447 older patients (60 to
89 years of age) whose partner died to that of 83,588 individuals whose
partners were still alive during the same period.
Fifty patients (0.16 percent) experienced a heart
attack or stroke within 30 days of their partner’s death. In the control
group 67 people (0.08 percent) suffered these events.
This increased risk of heart attack or stroke in
bereaved men and women diminished after 30 days.
“We have described a marked increase in
cardiovascular risk in the month after spousal bereavement, which seems
likely to be the result of adverse physiological responses associated
with acute grief,” the authors write in today’s edition of JAMA Internal
Medicine. “A better understanding of psychosocial factors associated
with acute cardiovascular events may provide opportunities for
prevention and improved clinical care.”
The researchers found little evidence of an
intervention to reduce this cardiovascular risk after bereavement but
note that others have suggested a “range of strategies” for “triggered
acute risk prevention.”
They comment in the report that “the most
appropriate and feasible seems to be ensuring good long-term management
of cardiovascular risk among individuals before and after bereavement
through lifestyle modification and medication.
This study was supported by the Dunhill Medical
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