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Posted: April 08, 2008

Parent's Death Anniversary Can be Deadly -- for You

The mental stress of dealing with the anniversary of a parent’s death can trigger your own sudden death, according to newly presented research.

In these cases, the sudden death is caused by a fatal irregular heartbeat pattern called lethal arrhythmia. It is especially common in men and occurs without warning, typically within one hour of the onset of symptoms, according to the research findings presented at the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting in Chicago.

In a way, the researchers said, this type of death is akin to earlier reported patterns of family members dying in close time proximity of other family members.

"We've all known close family members who have died within hours, weeks, months or years of each other," Dr. Ivan Mendoza, of Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, told the meeting. Mendoza was the study’s lead researcher.

He added: "Physicians should be aware that mental stress, such as the anniversary effect, may induce sudden death in susceptible individuals."

Mendoza was part of a research team that studied a series of 102 documented sudden deaths of subjects between the ages of 37 and 79. Of that total, 70% died from coronary artery disease.

In a subset of all these cases 12% -- death occurred on the anniversary of the death of a parent. Seven deaths occurred on the father's anniversary and five on the mother's death anniversary. In addition, one death occurred on the anniversary of both parents who had died on the same date.

The researchers were intrigued to find that in about a third of the cases, the adult child’s death occurred at a similar age as the parent.

Also of interest was a finding that fully 80% of these sudden deaths involved a son. While this distinction was not understood by the researchers, the team surmised that the reason could be tied to gender differences in dealing with stress.

Overall, Mendoza said, adult children may be especially vulnerable if they have a history of heart attack, family history of sudden death or coronary disease, or cardiovascular risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity or a sedentary lifestyle.

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