10/01/2012 08:56 GMT | Updated 10/01/2012 15:48 GMT

Grieving A Loved One Raises Heart Attack Risk

Scientific research suggests you really can die of a broken heart as a new study shows that people grieving the loss of a loved one are 21 times more likely to suffer a heart attack.

The study of 2,000 people, published in Circulation journal, found that the risk of a heart attack is 21 times higher on the day of a bereavement and six times higher than normal within the first week.

Scientists believe the increased risk is down the potentially lethal combination of stress, lack of sleep and forgetting to take regular medication

Psychological stress associated with grief raises heart rate, blood pressure and blood clotting, which can lead to a heart attack.

Lead investigator Dr Murray Mittleman, a preventive cardiologist and epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, said: "During situations of extreme grief and psychological distress, you still need to take care of yourself and seek medical attention for symptoms associated with a heart attack.

"Caretakers, healthcare providers and the bereaved themselves need to recognise they are in a period of heightened risk in the days and weeks after hearing of someone close dying."

The researchers studied 1,985 heart attack survivors and noted how many of them had been recently bereaved.

Of the participants, 270 (136%) had experienced the loss of a person close to them in the previous six months, including 19 who had lost someone within one day of their heart attack.

Prof Peter Weissberg of the British Heart Foundation told the BBC: "We're already aware that, under exceptional circumstances, emotional stress can trigger a heart attack.

"But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that heart attacks triggered by stress normally only happen in people with underlying heart disease. It's very important that if you're taking medication because you have, or are at high risk of, heart disease, don't neglect taking it following a significant bereavement."

A previous study found that women are nine times more likely to suffer from 'broken heart syndrome' whereby an emotional trauma such as the loss of a loved one triggers heart failure or heart attack-like symptoms.