Aspirin, Metropolol May Help Stave Off Bereavement-related “Broken Heart”

Previous research has indicated that there is an elevated risk for a heart attack early on in a period of bereavement (sometimes called having “broken heart” syndrome). However, new research suggests that preventing this outcome may be as simple as taking two common drugs.

“Bereavement following the death of a loved one is one of the most stressful experiences to which almost every human is exposed,” said lead investigator Geoffrey Tofler, Professor of Preventative Cardiology at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine and Health, and Senior Staff Cardiologist at Royal North Shore Hospital, said in a news release. “Our study is the first clinical trial to examine how the cardiac risk factors could be mitigated during early bereavement.”

The researchers, publishing in the American Heart Journal, conducted a randomized clinical trial of 85 recently bereaved participants (73 for spouses and 12 for parents; 55 females and 30 males; average age, 66 years) to determine whether a beta-blocker (metropolol 25 mg) and aspirin (100 mg) were able to reduce cardiovascular risk markers and anxiety without interfering with or affecting bereavement intensity. Participants were assessed within two weeks of bereavement and randomized to six weeks of treatment with either placebo or daily treatment with the metropolol/aspirin combination therapy.

Bereavement-related Heart Attack Risk Lessened

According to the results, those taking the metropolol and aspirin had lower home systolic levels (P=0.03), a lower average 24-hour heart rate (P<0.001), and lower anxiety platelet response to arachidonic acid (P<0.001), as well as reduced depression symptoms (P=0.046), compared to placebo. The authors reported no difference in standard deviation of NN intervals index (SDNNi), von Willebrand Factor antigen, platelet-granulocyte aggregates, or bereavement intensity. There were also no adverse effects on safety.

“Our finding on the potentially protective benefit of this treatment is also a good reminder for clinicians to consider the well-being of the bereaved,” said co-author Tom Buckley, of the University of Sydney Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, in a press release. “Future studies are needed to assess if these medications could be used for other short periods of severe emotional stress such as after natural disasters or mass bereavement where currently there are no guidelines to inform clinicians.”