November 15, 2010

Broken Hearts

(Ivanhoe Newswire) "“ When a spouse or a child dies the victim is not only left heartbroken, but with potentially harmful heart rhythm changes and an elevated heart rate.

According to the study, changes in how the heart functions increases the risk of heart attack and sudden cardiac death, however, these symptoms tend to return to normal within six months.

"While the focus at the time of bereavement is naturally directed toward the deceased person, the health and welfare of bereaved survivors should also be of concern to medical professionals, as well as family and friends," Thomas Buckley, Ph.D., the study's lead researcher, acting director of postgraduate studies at the University of Sydney Nursing School in Sydney, Australia was quoted as saying.

"Some bereaved, especially those already at increased cardiovascular risk, might benefit from medical review, and they should seek medical assistance for any possible cardiac symptoms," Dr. Buckley explained.

Researchers studied 78 grieving spouses and parents within two weeks of the death of a spouse or child and then again after six months. They then compared them to a group of volunteers who had not lost a loved one. The bereaved participants consisted of 55 women and 23 men who were between 33 and 91 years old.

Using 24-hour heart monitors and other tests, the researchers documented increases in heart rate, reduced heart rate variability (a measure of the heart's rhythmic regularity), and increases in clinical depression and anxiety.

"Increased heart rate and reduced heart rate variability in the early months of bereavement are possible mechanisms of increased cardiovascular risk during this often very stressful period," Dr. Buckley said.

The results showed that bereaved patients had almost twice the number of episodes of rapid heartbeats, or supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), than non-bereaved participants in the first weeks after their loved one's death (2.23 vs. 1.23 episodes of SVT). However, after six months their numbers were lower than in the control group (0.58 vs. 0.66). The average heart rate for the bereaved was 75.1 beats per minute (bpm) compared to 70.7 bpm in the non-bereaved. The rate for bereaved participants fell to 70.6 bpm after six months.

The average depression score in the grieving was 26.3 compared to 6.1 in the control group. This difference declined after six months, but still remained almost three times higher than the control group.

The average anxiety score was 46.7 in the bereaved and 28.8 in the control group. After six months, the rate increased to 29.1 in volunteers who had not experienced a loss, and dropped to 37.2 among the bereaved participants.

"While our findings do not establish causality, they are consistent with evidence for psychosocial triggering of cardiovascular events," Dr. Buckley said. "They suggest the need for further investigation of the link between bereavement and cardiovascular risk, including the potential for preventive measures."

SOURCE: American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2010 held in Chicago, IL from November 13-17, 2010