People who have lost a loved one are at higher risk for heart problems, a new study shows
Research shows that loss of a partner or family member does not merely feel like heartbreak: it may lead to very real heart problems. After the death of a loved one people are at a noticeably higher risk for heart disease – and the effect may last for years.
It is a known fact that a stressful event, such as the death of a close person, may cause people to feel chest pain and shortness of breath – symptoms very similar to a heart attack. This phenomenon is called stress cardiomyopathy, or simple broken heart syndrome. Experts believe that the sudden spike in stress hormones level brought on by an emotional event is responsible.
Recently a team of researches from Denmark ran a study of another disorder called atrial fibrillation (or irregular heartbeat.) They studied histories of 88,600 patients diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and found out that those people who had lost a partner were 41% more likely to develop irregular heartbeat within the first month after the event. The risk turned out to be especially high in cases where the partner's death was sudden, and for younger people.
While the study cannot directly confirm that the feeling of loss triggers the development of atrial fibrillation, it does provide good evidence for the suggestion that severe stress can affect a person's heart.
“This study adds evidence to the growing knowledge that the mind-heart link is a powerful association and further examination is warranted,” says author Simon Graff, a researcher in the Department of Public Health at Aarhus University. "We hope to help make a shift in society’s mindset—that a time of grief is not only a mental state but maybe also physical.”
As to what can be done to fix this – unfortunately, the very nature of stressful situations makes them impossible to predict and prevent. However, there are certain activities that can increase parasympathetic nervous system activity. Medics recommend regular exercise, meditation, yoga and deep breathing.