Blue Butterfly Glow
Page Title Tear

Section Home

General Information
Acute Responses to Loss
Assessing the Risk for Suicide
Holiday or Anyday Blues
Sudden, Accidental or Traumatic Death
September 11th Resources

Warning Signs & Symptoms
Complications of Grief
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Grief AIDE
How to Help a Grieving Person
How to Help a Grieving Child
Ways of Coping
Poems & Quotes 
Site Map

JofH Ethics Logo This website
follows the HON Code of Conduct
Leaving Site , the AMA's
Guidelines for Medical & Health Information Sites on the Internet Leaving Site
and the eHealth Code of Ethics Leaving Site.

Site created with Zope. Zope Logo

. .
~ Acute Grief Response ~

Grief can be defined as an adaptation response to loss through the death of or separation from an object of love, be it a person, a body part of a body function. When a person experiences a loss he/she is likely to also experience an acute grief response to that loss. These responses are normal responses that occur after experiencing a loss. The diagnosis of Acute Grief Response is likely to be made by a person's Primary Care Provider, frequently after extensive medical evaluations are conducted to rule out major physiological medical problems. Many of the symptoms experienced in acute grief are presenting symptoms of major medical emergencies. If there is any doubt as to whether the symptoms you or a loved one might be feeling in the aftermath of the tragedy are physical or psychological seek professional treatment.

Acute grief is a definite syndrome characterized by psychological and somatic symptoms:

1. Sensations of somatic distress that occur in waves lasting for 20 minutes to an hour characterized by:
    • Tightness in the throat
    • Choking
    • Shortness of breath
    • Sighing
    • An empty feeling in the stomach
    • Lack of muscular strength
    • Intense subjective distress described as tension or pain

    2. Intense preoccupation with the image of the deceased, as in waking dreams, accompanied by feelings of vagueness and unreality.
    3. Guilt feelings; the survivor reviews behavior before the death for evidence of negligence and failure.
    4. Emotional distancing in relationships with others, accompanied by erratic responses of irritability, hostility and anger.
    5. Disoriented behavior such as restlessness, insomnia, absentmindedness and an inability to concentrate or to initiate and maintain normal daily activities.
Potential Symptoms of the Acute Grief Response

Physical Symptoms:  Acute Grief Response

Trouble initiating or maintaining sleep
Chest heaviness or pain
Shortness of breath
Tightness in the throat
Abdominal, stomach pain
Back pain
Change in appetite increased or decreased
Weight change
Hair Loss
Crying, sighing

Emotional Symptoms:  Acute Grief Response

Emotionally labile
Self Blame

Social Symptoms:  Acute Grief Response

Overly sensitive
Avoid others
Lack of initiative
Lack of interest
Relationship difficulties
Lowered self esteem

Behavioral Symptoms:  Acute Grief Response

Difficulty concentrating
Slowed thinking
Sense of Unreality
Wandering aimlessly
Feeling trance-like
Feelings of unreality
Feelings of emptiness
Dreams of the deceased
Searching for the deceased
Sense the loved one's presence
Hallucinations of the deceased, sensing their presence (visual or auditory)
Assuming mannerisms or traits of the loved one 
Needing to retell the story of the loved one's death
Preoccupied with one's own death
Avoiding talking about loss so others won't feel uncomfortable

Bertmen SL, Sumpter HK, Greene HL. Bereavement and Grief. Chapter 219 in Greene HL (ed.) Clinical Medicine 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Year Book, Inc. 1996, pp. 856-8.
Casarett D, Kutner JS, Abrahm J. Life after Death: A Practical Approach to Grief and Bereavement. Ann Intern Med 2001;134:208-215. Available at: Leaving Site
Kutner JS. Grief and Bereavement: Physical, Psychological, and Behavioral Aspects. ACP Annual Meeting 2000. Available at: Leaving Site
Hughes M. Bereavement and Support. Taylor & Francis, 1995.
Saindon C. Grief: A Normal and Natural Response to Loss. Self Help Magazine. April 15, 1998. Available at: Leaving Site
Fitzgerald H. The Mourning Handbook. New York, N. Y.: A Fireside Book, 1994, p. 37.

The acute responses to loss are not unhealthy or maladaptive responses.
Rather they are normal responses to an abnormal event.

Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS

See the Emergency 911 Page for links to immediate resources
if you are feeling helpless, hopeless, overwhelmingly depressed, or suicidal.

Home | A Healing Place | Loss & Grief | Emergency Pick-Me-Ups | Condolence & Sympathy
What's New? | Resources | Transitional Medicine | Butterflies & Blazes
About this Site | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
Information on this site is designed to support, not replace, an existing physician-patient, provider-patient relationship. We regret that we are unable to answer any specific medical, mental or health related emails. Please contact your health care provider if you need specific questions answered. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement.
All material, unless otherwise specified, is © 1997-2003 by Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS of Journey of Hearts. Information on this site may be shared with others, but not in for-profit ventures without permission.
For more information see our full Copyright.

To contact the Domain Designer regarding the website or to use materials on this website send email to
Blue Butterfly Tear

Last update Sept. 11, 2002