Heart Attack Death Risk Appears to Increase After
Death of Adult Sibling
Death increases risk of heart attack death of adult
siblings and increased risk is most evident years later
1, 2013 — Your risk of dying from a heart attack may increase after your
adult sibling dies, according to new research in the Journal of the
American Heart Association.
“Death of a family member is so stressful that the
resulting coping responses could lead to a heart attack,” said Mikael
Rostila, Ph.D., lead author of the study and associate professor at
Stockholm University/Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.
“But our results suggest that this association
between the loss of a sibling and having a heart attack is more likely
to occur some years after bereavement.”
The study is the largest of its kind to show a link
between death from heart attack and the death of an adult sibling. It
included health information from a database of more than 1.6 million 40-
to 69-year-olds in Sweden.
American Heart Association finds women’s awareness of
heart disease as leading cause of death nearly doubled in 15 years;
culturally and generationally relevant messages on lifestyle and
prevention strategies are needed
Researchers, looking at associations between loss
of an adult sister or brother with heart attack and death in surviving
siblings up to 18 years after their losses, found:
● Surviving women were 25 percent and men 15
percent more likely to die from heart attack after the death of a
sibling, compared to people who had not lost a sibling.
● Increased risk of death from heart attack was
four to six and a half years after the death of a sibling among women
and two to six and a half years after among men.
● No notable increased risk of heart attack
occurred immediately after their siblings died.
● If their sibling died of heart attack, the
risk of heart attack death in the following years rose 62 percent among
women and 98 percent among men.
Rostila said adverse coping responses, such as
unhealthy lifestyles, underlie the association. Chronic mental stress
following the death of a sibling could also lead to health consequences
some years after the loss of a sibling. Similar genetics or shared risk
factors during childhood may be the cause for both siblings dying from
Healthcare providers should follow bereaved
siblings to help recognize signs of acute or chronic psycho-social
stress mechanisms that could lead to heart attack, Rostila said.
“We might be able to prevent heart attacks and
other heart-related conditions by treating these siblings early on and
recommending stress management,” he said. “However, more detailed
information from medical records, shared childhood social environment
and family characteristics, and data on personal and relational
characteristics is required to uncover the mechanisms causing the
association between sibling death and heart attack.”
Co-authors are Jan Saarela, Ph.D., and Ichiro
Kawachi, Ph.D., M.D.
The Swedish Council for Working Life and Social
Research and Swedish Research Council funded the study.