Sibling death increases risk of heart attack

Sibling death increases risk of heart attack

A person whose sibling has died is at increased risk of suffering a fatal heart attack.

The finding came from a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association which suggests that a healthy approach can help people cope with their loss and sadness.

For the purpose of the research, health records of 1.6 million Swedish adults between the ages of 40 and 69 were analyzed. A link was found between death from a heart attack and the death of an adult sibling, according to the authors.

Women were 25% more likely to die from a heart attack after a sibling passed away than those whose sibling had not died. For men, the increased chance was 15%.

Results showed that there was no significant increase in the risk of having a heart attack immediately following a sibling's death.

However, the elevated risk occurred four to six-and-a-half years after the death a sibling for women, and two to six-and-a-half years after the loss of a brother or sister for men.

Amy Thompson, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, concluded:

"These findings should certainly give us all food for thought. The immediate stress and grief brought about by the death of a family member cannot be underestimated but it's vital to consider how we cope with that stress later."

According to Thompson, unhealthy mechanisms to cope with the loss of a loved one that can actually raise the risk of heart problems include:

  • turning to junk food
  • turning to cigarettes
  • quitting exercise
  • isolating oneself months and years after a loss
Dealing with stress can be very challenging for a person and it is important that he or she knows how to deal with it, no matter what caused it. Previous research indicated that people with very demanding jobs have a much higher probability of having a heart attack than those with less stressful jobs.

The most critical way to deal with the sadness of losing a sibling is probably talking to someone, Thompson explained. Although, staying fit and healthy can also make a huge difference as well.

Anyone who wants or needs to talk about their loss of a loved one can call The British Heart Foundation's Heart Helpline on 0300 330 3311 (if you live in the UK).

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Section Issues On Medicine: Cardiology