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You really can die of a broken heart

By jspiteri  |  Posted: March 01, 2014

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How can bereavement and loss impact on your health?

Following the news this week that a broken heart can double the risk of heart attack and stroke,

Dr Balvinder Wasan, Consultant Cardiologist at London Bridge Hospital uncovers the real impact of bereavement and loss on your health.

"Bereavement & loss can impact on your health in a number of ways. There is a well documented link with loss to depression and stress. Deterioration in mental health is more likely to give rise to less healthy diets (including increased alcohol intake), less exercise & reduced motivation to take medications."

Can a break-up increase your risk of heart attack or stroke?

"With respect to cardiac disease, the above factors are more likely to give rise to unfavourable lipid profiles (cholesterol & fats in the blood), predispose to diabetes & high blood pressure. There is also good evidence that stress depresses your immune system which gives rise to inflammation, which in turn is known to be a significant factor in causing heart attacks. Blood clotting is more likely if there is impaired glucose tolerance, smoking & if the relevant medications are not taken in higher risk individuals."

How does loss impact on the health of your heart?

"The recent study would suggest that there is an increased risk of death after a partner's demise. There is some evidence that there is a higher likelihood of medical problems after a break up, particularly in men."

What is ‘broken heart syndrome’?

"Broken Heart Syndrome (medically termed Takotsubo or Stress Cardiomyopathy) is a condition brought about by intense, acute stress. The symptoms and signs mimic that of a heart attack and, often, the heart tracings (ECG) & blood tests also suggest a heart attack. The exact mechanism is not known but it is thought to be caused by high levels of circulating adrenaline. In the acute phase, there is a higher risk of death. However, unlike a heart attack, the condition often reverses within a few weeks, and heart function returns to normal."

Any advice or tips to reduce your risk factors when suffering from a break-up or bereavement

"Advice to avoid this would be to seek help if there is an impact on mental well being (see your GP or a bereavement counsellor), particularly if there is a knock on effect on physical health. If you are on medications, these should not be stopped under any circumstances."

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