Using common medication in a novel way can reduce increased risk of heart attack or "a broken heart" following the death of a loved one, show results of a clinical trial.
While most people gradually adjust to the loss of a loved one, there is an increase in heart attacks and death among bereaved people, particularly those grieving a spouse or child, said lead investigator Geoffrey Tofler, Professor at University of Sydney in Australia.
"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," Tofler said.
The study, published in the American Heart Journal, showed that it is possible to reduce several cardiac risk factors during this time, without adversely affecting the grieving process.
The research team enrolled 85 spouses or parents in the study within two weeks of losing their family member.
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 change 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 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," Tofler added.
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 preventative therapy during bereavement," said co-investigator Tom Buckley, Associate Professor at University of Sydney Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery.
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