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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.


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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 Trust.


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