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Sleep Problems

Grief can keep you from getting the regular sleep your mind and body need. You might have trouble going to sleep, or you might wake up often in the night or even sleep too much. Good sleep habits can help. Wind down slowly before bed with something calm like a bath, a book, or breathing exercises, and go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. 

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The emotional toll of grief can drain your energy. To keep up your strength, be sure to eat enough, even if you don’t feel like it. And exercise -- something as simple as a short walk can really help. It's also good to stay connected with family and friends. And a mental health professional or a support group may be able to give you a sense of connection, along with tools to help you through your grief.  

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Immune System

There's some evidence that grief can take a toll on your body’s ability to fight illness and infection, especially if it goes on for a long time. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if you're having trouble coming to terms with your loss.

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This happens when your immune system responds to something it sees as a threat and makes tissues in your body swell. It can play a role in heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, and possibly cancer. There's evidence that grief is linked to inflammation, and some studies show the more severe the grief, the more serious the inflammation. Exercise and eating right can help you manage it.

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The events that cause grief can make you feel like you don’t have control over your life. You might be concerned about your financial future or being alone or the possibility of losing someone else. Some worry is normal, but if your anxiety lasts longer than a few months or gets in the way of your normal work or home life, it may be time to talk to a mental health professional. 

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This is sometimes called the “stress hormone,” and your body may release more of it than usual into your bloodstream in the 6 months after the loss of a loved one. High levels of cortisol over a long period can raise your chances of heart disease or high blood pressure. 

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Grief can lead you to stop eating on a regular schedule or to binge eat. And stress hormones can make you nauseous or bother your stomach and the rest of your digestive tract. You might have stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, and even irritable bowel syndrome. If you have stomach issues that won't go away, your doctor can help you find ways to treat them.

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Aches and Pains

Grief may make you more likely to have joint pain, back pain, or headaches. Part of the reason could be the muscle tension caused by the stress hormones your body releases in response to grief. This should get better over time, but talk to your doctor about how to manage the pain if it doesn’t go away.

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Heart Rate

Serious grief can keep your pulse high for as long as 6 months. This faster rate, which could be caused by anxiety or the release of cortisol, might your chances of heart problems. Talk to your doctor about adding or changing your medication, especially if you already have heart issues. 

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Broken Heart Syndrome

The sudden loss of a spouse or loved one can cause a jolt of intense emotion and trigger hormones that lead to sharp chest pain and trouble breathing. Your heart may not pump blood as well for a while. It can feel like a heart attack, but it usually doesn’t damage your heart or block your arteries. Most people get better within a few days or weeks. 

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Higher Heart Attack Risk

In the first day of grief over the loss of someone close, your chances of having a heart attack are higher than normal. They go down over the course of the first week, but your odds may stay higher than usual for the first month. Try to get enough sleep, and watch for signs of heart attack like chest and stomach pain, cold sweats, nausea, and dizziness.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 06/22/2019 Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on June 22, 2019


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American Heart Association: “Is Broken Heart Syndrome Real?”

American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Coping with Grief.”

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “How to Calm an Anxious Stomach: The Brain-Gut Connection.”

Circulation: “Risk of Acute Myocardial Infarction After the Death of a Significant Person in One's Life.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Fighting Inflammation with Food: How to Follow an Anti-inflammatory Diet,” “Broken Heart Syndrome.”

Consumer Reports: “How to Reduce Inflammation.”

Croatian Medical Journal: “Long-term follow-up of blood pressure in family members of soldiers killed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Current Psychiatry Reports: “Bereavement and Anxiety.”

Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience:  “Physiological correlates of bereavement and the impact of bereavement interventions.” “When Loss Hurts: 6 Physical Effects of Grief.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Stress and the sensitive gut,” “Understanding Inflammation,” “Grief can hurt — in more ways than one,” “How to overcome grief’s health-damaging effects.”

Heart, Lung, and Circulation: “Haemodynamic Changes During Early Bereavement: Potential Contribution to Increased Cardiovascular Risk.” “What is an inflammation?”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Oversleeping: Bad for Your Health?”

Journal of Psychosomatic Research: “Impaired mental health and low-grade inflammation among fatigued bereaved individuals.”

Mayo Clinic: “Cushing syndrome,” “Broken heart syndrome.”

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on June 22, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.