We know Shakespeare’s tragic story of two young lovers who both lost their lives through bereavement. Romeo and Juliet are the quintessential lovers, forever in love. In their tale they took their own lives due to the grief of losing their loved one, but studies have found that a bereaved person is actually at a higher risk of dying due to health problems. Following the loss of a loved one it has been found that often a person will experience increased heart rate, blood pressure and blood clotting, as well as increases in symptoms of anxiety and depression. The expression dying from a broken heart takes on a clinical meaning.
A randomised clinical trial at the University of Sydney lead by Professor Geoffrey Tofler looked at a total of 85 people and showed that it is possible to reduce several cardiac risk factors during this time, without adversely affecting the grieving process. The oldest person in the study was 85 years of age with the average age of all subjects in the study being 66.
Following on from previous studies on cardiac health risks, increased depression and anxiety after bereavement Professor Tofler noted “However, there have been no interventions to address this with the goal of lowering cardiac risk, so we aimed to provide this with an approach that does not adversely affect the grief process.”
Forty-two subjects received low daily doses of a beta blocker and aspirin for six weeks, whilst the control group of 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 change in blood clotting tendency,” Tofler said.
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.”
Professor Tofler advocates the use of this therapy as a risk prevention strategy in those recently bereaved. He also encouraged the medical profession to give extra attention to the health of recently bereaved people,eople, as well as family and friends, who should provide social support and report any health symptoms to medical practitioners.