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Heart Attack Risk Significantly Rises After Losing a Sibling

Update Date: Feb 28, 2013 04:09 PM EST

According to a Swedish study, people who lose a sibling have a higher chance of getting heart attacks. The study suggests that if the siblings died from heart attacks, the risk for the family member still alive increases significantly. The researchers' conclusion resulted from observing the lifestyle changes in people who have lost a brother or sister. These lifestyle changes include dealing with chronic stress, increase in drinking and or smoking, developing an unhealthy eating habit, and lack of exercise, which are all contributing factors to heart disease. There can also be other underlying factors, such as genetics, that contribute to a higher risk for heart attacks.

The study used data from 1.6 million Swedish people from the ages of 40 to 69. Based off of the numbers, the researchers found that surviving sisters had an increased risk of heart attack by 25 percent, where as surviving brothers had a 15 percent higher chance for heart attack when compared to people who did not suffer the loss of a sibling. The numbers also revealed that if the sibling died from a heart attack, the risk dramatically increased to 62 percent for women and 98 percent for men. The researchers noted that the risk was highest after four to six years after mourning the death of a sibling and not immediately after the death. Researchers also pointed out that the findings did not prove a cause and effect relationship between death and risk for heart attack, but it definitely suggests that a relationship does exists.

The lead researcher of the study is Mikael Rostila, who is an associate professor from Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institute.  Rostila aims to use this finding to "prevent heart attacks and other heart-related conditions by treating these siblings early one and recommending stress management."

Thus, even if the findings only present a correlation between the factors, the fact that a correlation exists can help with future research in finding preventable measures for heart disease.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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