PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — If someone in your family has recently died, others may be at risk.

Dr. Srinivas Murali, a cardiologist, recalls the case of a long married couple. The wife was his patient. She eventually died of heart failure.

“The husband, who was relatively well, had a massive heart attack about two weeks after the wife’s death,” Dr. Murali says.

A study in the journal “Circulation” is the first to look at this issue. It shows the risk of heart attack increases in the days and weeks after the death of a close loved one – especially for people who have had a heart attack before.

The study looked at nearly 2,000 adult heart attack survivors. In the first day after a significant person’s death, the risk is more than 20 times higher than normal. In the first week, six times higher. The risk then declines over the first month.

Because of the increased risk, Dr. Murali always checks in with surviving relatives.

“Are they having any symptoms? Are they taking any medications? And that sort of thing. Not that that necessarily allows you to identify risk, but at least it gets them to start thinking about their own vulnerabilities, and I think it’s a good place to start.”

If there has been a recent death in the family, it’s a good time to keep an eye on close relatives, make sure they’re taking their medicines, and watch for signs of heart attack — chest pressure, shortness of breath, excessive sweating or jaw pain.

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PubMed Health: Heart Attack

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