The death of a loved one is devastating — but a new study has found it could literally break your heart.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School have found that your risk of heart attack dramatically increases in the days and weeks after the death of a close friend or family member.
The study — published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association — found that heart attack risk was 21 times higher than normal within one day of the death, and were almost six times higher than normal throughout the first week.
The risk factor then steadily declined for one month, eventually returning to normal.
"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," preventive cardiologist Murray Mittleman said.
Mittleman and his team interviewed 1,985 adult heart attack survivors. Patients were asked about the circumstances of their heart attack, and whether someone close to them had died in the past 12 months.
Researchers could then calculate the relative risk of heart attack by comparing the number of patients who had lost a loved one in the week prior to their cardiac episode, to the number of patients who had lost someone one to six months before their heart attack.
They found that the number of heart attacks spiked in the first few days after the death of a loved one, and remained higher than normal for one month.
Intense grief cause psychological stress, which can increase heart rate and blood pressure, thus increasing risk of a heart attack.
Grieving people are also prone to poor diet, interrupted sleep and neglecting their normal medications, which are also bad for heart health.
"Friends and family of bereaved people should provide close support to help prevent such incidents, especially near the beginning of the grieving process," study co-author Elizabeth Mostofsky said.
Heart attack symptoms include chest discomfort, upper body or stomach pain, shortness of breath, breaking into a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.
Video: Heart attack warning signs