In the 24 hours after losing a significant other, a person’s risk of having a heart attack increases more than 20-fold because of grief-related stress that causes spikes in risk factors such as high blood pressure.
Taking aspirin after losing a loved one could reduce the risk of suffering a grief-driven heart attack, research has suggested.
Given previous evidence that aspirin can reduce many of those same risk factors, researchers from the University of Arizona set out to investigate whether taking the the over-the-counter painkiller could benefit people who are grieving.
The findings revealed that people who took aspirin had lower levels of heart attack risk factors as well as depressive symptoms and recovered from the loss more quickly overall.
A study found that aspirin decreased the effects of grief-related stress in people who had recently lost a loved one, which has been associated with a 20-fold increase in heart attack risk
Previous research has indicated that people are significantly more likely to die after losing a loved one in part because grief puts stress on a person’s heart.
Bereavement causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, constricted blood vessels and the build up of cholesterol plaque in the blood, all of which contribute to the likelihood of a heart attack.
Grief has also been tied to what is known as broken heart syndrome, a temporary condition wherein people feel chest pain similar to that of a heart attack.
Broken heart syndrome can be brought on by a variety of stressful situations but is most often caused by death of a loved one.
Grieving people have also been found to have higher levels of stress hormones such as cortisol in the brain, which increases their risk of depression.
In the study published this month in the journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, the researchers hypothesized that aspirin may be able to minimize the effect of grieving on the heart.
The blood-thinner has long been prescribed to people who are thought to have a high likelihood of suffering a heart attack because it reduces blood clots.
To test the hypothesis, the researchers recruited 10 people who were grieving the loss of their spouse in the 30 days prior and 12 people who were not grieving.
They first determined a baseline for each participants cardiovascular health by testing blood pressure, heart rate and heart rate variability as well as their depressive symptoms.
Half of the participants were then randomly selected to take an 81mg dose of aspirin, the standard dose recommended by doctors to prevent heart attacks, while the other half were given a placebo.
About 10 days later each participant was re-evaluated, revealing that those who were given the aspirin had significantly lower blood pressure.
All five people in the grief group who had received aspirin were found to have fewer depressive symptoms versus one in five who were given the placebo.
The authors concluded that while the results suggest aspirin may help prevent the risk of heart attacks in grieving people, further research is needed to investigate this potential link.