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Grief is sudden death risk factor

1st April 2008

Doctors in Venezuela have warned that people approaching the anniversary of the loss of a loved one are at increased risk of dying themselves.

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The psychological stress associated with grieving, especially if the death is of a mother or father, is an important trigger of sudden death, especially in men, according to Ivan Mendoza of the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas.

Mendoza led a team which reviewed 102 documented cases of sudden death in people ages 37 to 79.

They found that 13 of the deaths occurred on the anniversary of a parent's death, with 10 of the deaths in men. Four of the 13 died at the same age their parent did.

Mendoza and his team presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, adding that nearly half of all cardiac deaths are sudden deaths.

Sudden death is a highly unpredictable syndrome, usually caused by abnormal heart rhythms, occurring rapidly, within an hour after chest pain or breathlessness.

People who have already had a heart attack or who have a family history of sudden death or heart disease, or heart disease risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, are most at risk.

Around 60% of the patients studied fell into this category, with underlying coronary artery disease.

Mendoza warned doctors to be aware of the additional psychological risk factor caused by grieving a parent. In a separate study, he also found a link between anger and sudden death.

Strategies to prevent sudden death include behavior modification, stress reduction, and treatment of heart disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol.

Psychologists recommended talking about the grief, and for some form of memorial activity to remember the dead person.

That could involve visiting their grave, or arranging to attend a religious ceremony to mark their passing.

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