The saying ‘dying of a broken heart’ is true, according to a new study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
We might have heard many tragedies of people dying after losing someone they loved. Science shows that it can happen because the person grieving has an increased risk of cardiovascular illness. The study gathered information on widows and widowers.
The lead author and assistant professor of psychology at Rice’s School of Social Sciences, Chris Fagundes explains:
“In the first six months after the loss of a spouse, widows/widowers are at a 41 percent increased risk of mortality.”
Fagundes added that 53% of the cases of mortality are due to cardiovascular disease. He wants to understand why it causes death:
“This study is an important step toward understanding why this is the case by identifying how bereavement gets under the skin to promote morbidity and mortality.”
Widows and Widowers: Increased Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke, and Depression
The study tracked 65 volunteers (aged 51 to 80). There were two groups: 32 of them recently lost a spouse, and 33 didn’t.
The people that lost their spouse had more elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, 7% increased TNF-alpha and 5% increase in IL-6. They also had a low heart rate variability (HRV), it was 47% lower than the control group.
In their study, the researchers took into consideration factors like age, sex, BMI, and educational attainment.
The widows and widowers were 20% more depressive than the other group. Fagundes said that: “Although not every bereaved individual is at the same risk for cardiac events, it is important to point out that the risk exists.”
In 2014, a study showed that the ones that lose someone they loved have an increased risk of heart attack and stroke the month after the spouse has died. Grief also increases the of atrial fibrillation (AF) for almost a year. And these symptoms of ‘a broken heart’ can also occur in people that are highly stressed.
Fagundes concludes that they will further the research to “identify which widows/widowers are at greatest risk, and which are resilient to the negative physiological consequences of bereavement.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.