Grief and heart health

There is a link between grieving and heart problems. It wasn’t uncommon when interviewing a new  cardiac rehabilitation client to find many were grieving the loss of a loved one. In cardiac rehabilitation we would make sure to document it in their notes. Grief can be considered a risk factors for coronary artery disease. Often grieving is not addressed well enough from the medical community. Yes we label it on a chart, but what do we offer to help a person who is grieving?  Some suggestions include counseling, support groups, a listening ear, an opportunity to  reflect. It is especially important around holidays or anniversaries as many have increased heart symptoms which most likely are related to the grieving process.                                                                                           Tears of grief

Emotional distress is a common trigger of angina.

With loss many experience increased heart symptoms of chest pressure, chest discomfort, pain, heaviness, fatigue and energy loss.

 “Heartache the emotional pain recognition site in the brain is located near the region that senses and interprets sensations. When we suffer emotionally, the brain responds by releasing neurochemicals we experience in our body as an intense aching in our upper abdomen and lower chest. Grief-related stress can increase blood pressure and heart rate, raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol, constrict blood vessels, and disrupt cholesterol-filled plaques that line arteries. Any one of these changes raises the risk of heart attack.

Grief also makes blood “stickier” and therefore more likely to clot. Acute stress tends to increase levels of the hormones known as catecholamines which causes platelets to stick together. If a plaque bursts, the resulting clot is more likely to cut off blood to the heart.

American Heart Association’s Circulation reports scientists have found evidence that grief might actually break your heart. Studies show that people grieving the death of a close loved one could have a heart attack risk that is higher than normal.

The calculated the risk of a heart attack as 21 times higher in the first day after the loss of a loved one.  Risk declines steadily with each day after a loved one’s passing, but it remains eight times higher one week after the death and four times higher one month afterward, according to the American Heart Association journal Circulation

The link between grief and bereavement was strongest among people who had preexisting risk factors for heart disease and heart attacks, such as high blood pressure or unhealthy cholesterol levels. People mourning the loss of a loved one might further increase their heart-attack risk by sleeping poorly, eating less,  and skipping their medications. Other factors may include binge eating of comfort foods, increased alcohol or tobacco in an effort to comfort oneself from the intense loss.


Broken Heart Syndrome; 

Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy is a type of heart failure caused by grief or stress where the left ventricle balloons out taking on an unusual shape like a Japanese fishing pot. The symptoms are the same as a heart attack but an electrocardiogram does not always show the problem. You experience chest pain, shortness of breath, arm pain, and sweating as in a classic heart attack but its different. Postmenopausal women who are grieving are the main patients who experience this type of heart failure. It is caused when experiencing grief, stress, emotional trauma, or physical stress. The best test to confirm this heart problem is a contrast echocardiogram or an angiograph which takes pictures of your heart. The recovery for this type of heart failure usually takes less time than a classic heart attack.


Depression: Depression is part of the grief process. This grief causes a dark sadness, insomnia, lack of appetite, and weight loss. It is considered part of the normal process of healing. After months if the person does not heal, it can become permanent and steps need to be taken by a professional level.  Meaning it is time to discuss it with the healthcare practitioner, consider counseling and  consider medications. Some people even lose their will to live. To heal, grief must be addressed. It is not an expectation that it will end but it should decrease to where it isn’t always overwhelming and effecting quality of life or daily activity. At what point does grief turn into permanent depression that is life threatening? There is no simple answer to this question. It is generally advised, if the person has not begun to come out of their grief by a year, they probably need to seek professional help. The elderly have more challenges with grief and depression as there may be problems adjusting to life.  After spending 30 to 50 years with a spouse, they simply don’t know how to live without them. They often don’t eat healthy, skip medications, become isolated, consume more alcohol or tobacco which undermines health.


8 thoughts on “Grief and heart health

  1. Pingback: Grief and heart health | heart diseases an heart conditions |

  2. I was told my grandfather died from a broken heart after my grandmother passed away…now I know he most likely did.

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