LIFESTYLE

Death Of A Partner Really Can Break Your Heart, Study Suggests

'Emotional stress can have an adverse effect on the heart.'

06/04/2016 10:23 | Updated 08 April 2016

 

The death of a partner may actually break your heart, new research suggests.

The study found that those who lose a partner are at an increased risk of developing an irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation, which in itself is a risk factor for stroke and heart failure.

The researchers noted that the risk appears to be greater in younger people after the death of their loved one, compared to older generations. 

What's more, the risk of an irregular heartbeat also increases when the death is least expected.

JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

Danish researchers collated data from almost 89,000 people diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat between 1995 and 2014 and compared it to 886,000 healthy people.

A total of 17,478 of those diagnosed with atrial fibrillation had lost their partner, compared to 168,940 of the comparison group.

After taking into account a number of lifestyle factors, the researchers calculated that the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for the first time was 41% higher among those who had been bereaved.

The authors cautioned that no cause and effect can be inferred from the observational study but said that bereavement is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, mental illness, and even death.

"The loss of a partner is considered one of the most severely stressful life events and is likely to affect most people, independently of coping mechanisms," the study authors said, according to the Press Association

"In this large population-based study, the severely stressful life event of losing a partner was associated with a transiently increased risk of atrial fibrillation, which lasted for about one year.

"The elevated risk was especially high for those who were young and those who lost a relatively healthy partner.

"Bereavement is a major life event, which is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, mental illness and death.

"The underlying causal mechanisms for the association between the loss of a partner and AF is unclear, but acute stress may possess direct arrhythmogenic properties by alternating autonomic control, influencing heart rate variability and enhancing pro-inflammatory cytokines."

Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, added: "The bereavement of a partner is a devastating event in anyone's life but the effect can be even worse when a death is sudden or premature.

"Our research has shown how emotional stress can have an adverse effect on the heart but this study also highlights a significant physical effect - a greater risk of developing atrial fibrillation when recently bereaved. This risk appears even greater the more sudden the death or younger that person is.

"Studies to increase understanding of the cause of this finding are needed but it is important to ensure the newly bereaved, regardless of their age, are monitored and supported by their loved ones and to see their GP if they experience any symptoms."

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