We’ve all heard about people dying of a “broken heart.”

A new Harvard study suggests it really can happen. Researchers found the risk of heart attack goes way up in the hours and days after the death of a loved one.

Researchers  interviewed about 2,000 people who’d been hospitalized for a heart attack.

The subjects  were questioned about several different risk factors for heart disease as well as other behaviors over the past year.  Patients were also asked if they’d recently lost somebody significant in their lives.

The team found the risk of having a heart attack was 21 times higher in the 24 hours following the loss of a loved one, compared to other times.

While that risk was shown to decline over time, it did remain elevated for the following days and weeks.

Past research reveals grief and bereavement can trigger depression and anxiety.

These emotions can cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and blood clotting – all of which can increase the chances of having a heart attack, says study leader Elizabeth Mostofsky of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Since this study only involved interviewing those who survived heart-attacks, the research team was not able to examine the relationship between loss of a loved one and whether or not the patient survived or died after a heart attack.

Dr. Mostofsky says they’ll use data in future studies which will allow them to examine this aspect of the link between loss and heart attacks.

She adds that the key message of the study’s findings is that bereaved individuals and those around them should be aware of the heightened risk and make sure those who lose a loved one take care of themselves.

Mostofsky stresses if a person experiences symptoms of a heart attack, they shouldn’t simply assume it’s because they’re dealing with a stressful experience. It might really be a heart attack.

This weekend on the radio edition of “Science World,” Dr. Mostofsky talks to us about how a broken heart can be about more than just emotion. Tune in (see right column for scheduled times) or check out the interview below.

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Other stories we cover on the “Science World” radio program this week include: