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Death of Partner and Risk for Heart Attack, Stroke

The first month is crucial, but then the threat diminishes, researchers say
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However, the cardiovascular gap observed between the two groups started to narrow significantly after the first 30 days. When the study authors compared heart status at the 90-day mark and again one year out, the two groups were found to face more or less comparable risk.

The study authors concluded that their findings reinforce the notion of a psychological-physiological dimension to cardiovascular risk.

The findings appear in the Feb. 24 online issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

A cardiovascular disease specialist not involved with the study suggested the findings are yet more proof of a "very powerful link" between mind and body.

"Most people are somewhat aware that stress can have a physiological effect," said Dr. Martha Grogan, a consultant with the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "But what's important to realize is that there is a real impact on the body."

Researchers aren't sure exactly what lies behind the link. "But we think it has something to do with how emotional factors cause arterial instability, by increasing the risk that the plaque we all have to some degree will start to block the arteries," Grogan said.

For most people, the emotional toll of bereavement will eventually pass, she said. But while you're struggling with grief or experiencing long-term chronic stress from another source, she suggested looking for ways to relieve your burden.

You might try exercising or reaching out for the emotional support of others, she said.

"The way we handle our stress clearly can have an impact on our health," Grogan added.

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