Common drug combo may prevent ‘broken heart’ when you lost a loved one

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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.

The increased risk of heart attack can last up to six months. It is highest in the first days following bereavement and remains at four times the risk between seven days to one month after the loss.

In a recent study led by the University of Sydney, researchers found that the increased risk of heart attack or “a broken heart” in early bereavement could be reduced by using a beta-blocker and aspirin in a novel way.

The study 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.

The study is published in the American Heart Journal. The lead author is Professor Geoffrey Tofler.

The team 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 team found 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.

The investigators also carefully monitored the grief reaction of participants.

In addition, the drug combo had no adverse effect on the psychological responses and indeed lessened symptoms of anxiety and depression.

It reduced levels of anxiety and blood pressure persisted even after stopping the six weeks of daily beta-blocker and aspirin.

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 preventative therapy during bereavement.

The researchers acknowledge that larger long-term studies are needed to identify who would benefit most however the findings.

People experiencing cardiac symptoms should discuss their condition with a health care professional before taking medication as incorrect use could be harmful.

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