Partner's Death Could Increase Heart Attack Risk

Heart attack and stroke rate increased in those whose partner died

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The death of a loved one can bring emotional strife and, quite literally, heartbreak. According to a new study, the loss of a loved one might be linked to heart troubles.

This new study showed that older adults who recently lost their partner were more likely to have a cardiovascular event, such as heart attack or stroke, within 30 days than those who had not lost a partner during the same time.

"Consider speaking with a grief counselor or other professional when tragedy strikes."

This study, led by Iain M. Carey, MSc, PhD, of the Division of Population Health Sciences and Education at St George’s University of London in England, focused on bereavement, or the period of grief and mourning following the death of a loved one.

The study aimed to compare rates of cardiovascular problems between older people who had recently lost a partner and those whose partner was still alive.

To do so, Dr. Carey and team utilized data from The Health Improvement Network, a database drawing from 401 general practices in the United Kingdom, from February 2005 through September 2012.

The researchers identified 30,447 participants between the ages of 60 and 89 who had lost a partner during the study period (the "bereaved" group). These participants' heart outcomes were compared to a group of 83,588 participants, matched for age and gender, who had not lost a partner (the "control" group).

Dr. Carey and team looked for instances of heart attack or stroke within 30 days of the loss of a partner. These results were compared to the rate of cardiovascular events among the matched control participants within the same time period.

After analyzing the data, these researchers found that within 30 days of the death of their partner, 0.16 percent of the bereaved group (50 participants) had a heart attack or stroke. The same occurred in only 0.08 percent of the control group (67 participants).

An increased risk was seen for both men and women who had lost a partner.

"This study provides further evidence that the death of a partner is associated with a range of major cardiovascular events in the immediate weeks and months after bereavement," wrote Dr. Carey and team. "Understanding psychosocial factors associated with acute cardiovascular events may provide opportunities for prevention and improved clinical care."

It is important to note that though an increased risk was seen, the overall rate of cardiovascular events was still fairly low. Furthermore, this study only looked at different-sex couples. Further research is needed to explore the topic.

This study was published online February 24 by JAMA. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
February 26, 2014
Last Updated:
March 1, 2014