A new study has cast light on the previously established link between recent bereavement and changes in heart rate and heart-rhythm regularity. The present study elucidates the consequent increased risk of heart attacks and sudden cardiac death, as well as the reduction in risk over time.
The study found that in the first weeks after a family member’s death, bereaved patients had almost twice the number of tachycardia episodes—or rapid heartbeats—than non-bereaved patients. After six months, however, bereaved patients had lower rates than non-bereaved.
The study also assessed depression and anxiety levels, and produced similar findings. Bereaved patients showed a very high depression score immediately after the death, but showed a decline after six months. However, bereaved patients still scored three times higher than non-bereaved after six months.
“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”, concluded lead researcher Thomas Buckley.
These findings suggest that the health and welfare of bereaved survivors should be taken into greater account by medical professionals, as well as their loved ones. “While our findings do not establish causality, they are consistent with evidence for psychosocial triggering of cardiovascular events. They suggest the need for further investigation of the link between bereavement and cardiovascular risk, including potential for preventative measures”.