A worldwide study conducted by scientists from University of Sydney, Australia, has recently found that the increased risk of heart attack or “a broken heart” in early bereavement could be reduced with the administration of aspirin in a fresh way.
Lead Investigator, Professor Geoffrey Tofler said while most people gradually adjust to the loss of a loved one, there is an increase in heart attack and death among bereaved people, particularly those grieving a spouse or child.
According to the World Health Organisation, mortality rate in Nigeria has increased from 50 million to around 57 million recently.
“The increased risk of heart attack can last up to six months. It is highest in the first day following bereavement and remains at four times the risk between seven days to one month after the loss’’, Tofler noted.
The study, published in the American Heart Journal, is the first randomized controlled clinical trial to show it is possible to reduce several cardiac risk factors during this time, without adversely affecting the grieving process.
“Bereavement following the death of a loved one is one of the most stressful experiences to which almost every human is exposed,” said Professor Tofler, Professor of Preventative Cardiology at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine and Health, and Senior Staff Cardiologist at Royal North Shore Hospital.
“Our study is the first clinical trial to examine how the cardiac risk factors could be mitigated during early bereavement.”
The research team from the University of Sydney, Royal North Shore Hospital and the Kolling Institute enrolled 85 spouses or parents in the study within two weeks of losing their family members.
Forty-two participants received low daily doses of a beta blocker and aspirin for six weeks, while 43 were given placebos. Heart rate and blood pressure were carefully monitored, and blood tests assessed blood clotting changes.
“The main finding was that the active medication, used in a low dose once a day, successfully reduced spikes in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as demonstrating some positive changes in blood clotting tendency,” said Professor Tofler.
The investigators also carefully monitored the grief reaction of participants.
“We were reassured that the medication had no adverse effect on the psychological responses, and indeed lessened symptoms of anxiety and depression,” said Professor Tofler.
“Encouragingly, and to our surprise, reduced levels of anxiety and blood pressure persisted even after stopping the six weeks of daily beta blocker and aspirin.”
Co-investigator Associate Professor Tom Buckley said the study builds on the team’s novel work in this area with their earlier studies among the first to identify the physiological correlates of bereavement.
“While beta blockers and aspirin have been commonly used long term to reduce cardiovascular risk, they have not previously been used in this way as a short-term preventive therapy during bereavement,” said Associate Professor Buckley of the University of Sydney.
The authors acknowledge that larger long-term studies are needed to identify who would benefit most however the findings provide encouragement for healthcare professionals to consider this preventive strategy among individuals that they consider to be at high risk associated with early bereavement.
“Our finding on the potentially protective benefit of this treatment is also a good reminder for clinicians to consider the well-being of the bereaved,” said Associate Professor Buckley.
People experiencing cardiac symptoms should discuss their condition with a healthcare professional before taking medication as incorrect use could be harmful.