People really can die of a broken heart, a new study reveals.
Grief at the loss of a loved one increases blood pressure and can cause heart attacks, say scientists.
Researchers from the University of Arizona knew that there is an increased risk of mortality after the death of someone near to us and decided to look at blood pressure as a possible factor.
They found that severe grief can cause a marked rise in blood pressure suggesting it could be a risk factor for cardiac events.
The study, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, demonstrates an association between grief severity and elevated systolic blood pressure response.
The study looked at 59 people who had lost a close loved one in the past year.
Mary-Frances O’Connor is a senior author of the study and a University of Arizona associate professor of psychology who specializes in grief.
She said: “The idea of ‘dying of a broken heart’ which can happen following the loss of a loved one, was the motivation for the research.
“When you go to a cardiologist, they don’t just measure your blood pressure. They also sometimes do a stress test, like a treadmill, and measure your blood pressure. This is sort of like an emotional stress test.”
The team talked to each participant for 10 minutes and asked them to share a moment when they felt very alone after the death of their loved one.
The researchers then measured the study participants’ blood pressure.
After grief recall, participants’ systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure that the heart exerts on the arteries while beating, increased.
From the baseline level, systolic blood pressure climbed by an average of 21.1 millimeters of mercury, approximately as much of an increase as would be expected during moderate exercise.
Among the 59 participants, those who showed the highest level of grief symptoms experienced the greatest increase in blood pressure during the grief recall.
O’Connor said: “This means that it isn’t just the death of a loved one that impacts the heart, but our emotional response to loss that is affecting our heart.”
The study’s findings, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, are helpful for clinicians, as they show that people experiencing grief are at higher risk for hypertension and other heart-related problems.
O’Connor added: “It’s important for psychologists and therapists to encourage grieving clients to get their regular medical checkups. Often, when we’ve been caring for a loved one who’s dying, we neglect our own health care.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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