HomeLifestyleHealth & FitnessThe Strange Condition That Can Make Your Heartbeat Irregular

The Strange Condition That Can Make Your Heartbeat Irregular

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Patients with heart failure who are grieving or mourning the loss of a close family member had a higher risk of death, especially in the first week after the death.

This study was published online today in JACC: Heart Failure.

Around the world, more than 64 million people suffer from heart failure (HF). Previous research suggests that limited social support, despair, and anxiety are linked to poor prognosis in HF patients.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy sometimes referred to as “broken heart syndrome,” and extreme emotional stress have been linked in numerous studies. This is one of the earliest studies to evaluate the link between grieving and an increased risk of heart failure.

The authors of the study examined nearly half a million patients from the Swedish Heart Failure Registry between 2000 and 2018, as well as individuals with a main diagnosis of HF from the Swedish Patient Register between 1987 and 2018.

The Cause of Death Register included details on the time and reason for the deaths of family members, including children, spouses/partners, grandkids, siblings, and parents.

58,949 study participants all lost a loved one over the course of an average of 3.7 years of follow-up. The authors of the study evaluated whether the relationship to the deceased, cause of death, and time elapsed since death influenced the risk of HF mortality.

The relationship between bereavement and increased HF mortality risk was detected after the death of a child (10% increased risk), spouse/partner (20% increased risk), grandchild (5% increased risk), or sibling (13%) but not after the death of a parent.

The risk of dying from HF after the death of any family member was highest during the first week of bereavement (a 78 percent increased risk), especially in the case of death of a child (a 31 percent increased risk) or spouse/partner (a 113 percent increased risk); it was also higher in the case of two losses (a 35 percent increased risk) as opposed to one loss (a 28 percent increased risk).

Hua Chen, the study’s lead author, points out that “the association between bereavement and mortality was observed not only in cases of loss due to cardiovascular disease and other natural causes but also in cases of unnatural deaths.”

According to the findings of the study, “bereavement was associated with mortality in HF patients contributes to and extends the existing literature regarding the role of stress in prognosis of HF and is consistent with studies reporting associations between bereavement and increased risk of incident cardiovascular conditions.”

Bereavement may stimulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, an important neuroendocrine system that governs stress and emotional response, according to the authors of the study.

The authors said that it may also cause a response in the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) and the sympathetic nervous system, which are two of the most important parts of the neuroendocrine response in HF.

According to Krisztina László, senior author of the study, “the findings of the study may call for increased attention from family members, friends, and involved professionals for bereaved heart failure patients, particularly in the period shortly after the loss.”

There are a number of limitations to the study, including the fact that the investigators were unable to account for the confounding effects of genetic factors or unmeasured socioeconomic, lifestyle, or health-related characteristics that were shared by family members.

Some of the subanalyses didn’t give the authors many chances to find effects, and the results may only be applicable to countries with similar social, cultural, and health factors to Sweden.

More research needs to be done to find out if less severe sources of stress can also make the outlook for HF worse.

Image Credit: Getty

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