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How a broken heart can literally kill you

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study shows those who have lost a partner are at increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know how heartbreaking it can be, but now a new study shows that a broken heart after a partner’s death doubles your chances of having a stroke or heart attack within the first 30 days.

Researchers from St. George's University of London conducted the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The researchers said that the grief an individual suffers after losing their partner can bring on additional stress that can lead to depression, causing the surviving partner to lose interest in previously enjoyed activities and in life in general.

For the study, the researchers looked into bereavement as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, assessing the rate of heart attack or stroke in adults over the age of 60 whose partner had died – then comparing that rate with a control group of adults whose partners were still living.

The study involved 3,0447 participants who had lost their partner, as well as 83,588 control participants who still had a living partner.

As a result of their findings, the researchers discovered that 16 per 10,000 adults whose partners had died went on to suffer a heart attack or stroke within 30 days of their partner’s death.

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Among the participants whose partner was still living, only 8 per 10,000 experienced a heart attack or stroke within 30 days.

However, after 30 days had passed since a partner's death, the surviving partner's increased risk for cardiovascular problems began to diminish

The study’s co-author, Dr. Sunil Shah of St. George's University of London, explained that the term a “broken heart” is used to “signify the pain of losing a loved one”, and the findings of their study revealed that bereavement can have a direct impact on the health of the heart and significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular events within 30 days after the loved one's death.

Prior research has shown evidence that grieving the loss of a partner can result in changes to the body, including changes in heart rate, blood pressure and blood clotting. Mourning the loss of a loved one can also lead to forgetfulness.

Indeed, Dr. Shah noted that in another study, the researchers found that those whose loved ones had died tended to forget to consistently take their regular medications, including preventive medications like aspirin and cholesterol lowering drugs.

When you combine all of these factors together, the risk for cardiovascular problems increases, according to Dr. Shah, who also stresses the importance of becoming aware of such risks, especially for doctors, family and friends of the surviving partner who is grieving the loss of their loved one.

SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Increased Risk of Acute Cardiovascular Events After Partner Bereavement, Iain M. Carey, Sunil M. Shah, et al., published February 24, 2014 (doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.14558).



As a nurse I have seen this happen too many times. I have even seen deaths within days or even hours. I always feel horrible for the poor family having to deal with such a tragedy.