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Heart Attack Risks Soar for Grieving Loved Ones

BananaStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Scientists have found new evidence that grief might actually break your heart. A new study shows that people grieving the death of a close loved one could have a heart attack risk that is 20 times higher than normal.

When researchers interviewed nearly 2,000 people in the early 1990s who were hospitalized after a heart attack, 270 reported that they had experienced the death of a parent, sibling, spouse, friend or other loved one in the six months before their heart attack; almost 20 people had experienced a loss within the past day.

The authors calculated the risk of a heart attack as 21 times higher in the first day after the loss of a loved one, and six times higher during the week after such a loss.

The study was published Monday in the American Heart Association's Journal Circulation.

While previous studies have shown that the death of a loved one is linked to worsening health over time, the latest study is the first to show that the effects can begin so immediately and strongly after a loss, findings that surprised lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky and her colleagues.

Studies have shown that people can and do suffer from "broken heart syndrome," called takotsubo, a condition in which heart attacks occur in the face of abrupt, stressful news or events. Scientists aren't entirely sure how shock or grief lead to a heart attack but, most likely, emotional stress boosts levels of stress hormones and other factors that can increase heart rate, blood pressure, blood clotting and other factors that put the heart at risk.

Broken heart syndrome is more common among older women, but in the latest study, the grieving heart attack survivors were mostly younger men.

Heart attack symptoms include chest discomfort, stomach pain, shortness of breath, nausea and lightheadedness, according to the American Heart Association. Patients with such symptoms should report them immediately.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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