A new study published in Psychoneuroendocrinologym has confirmed that grief can be fatal, as it is possible to die of a broken heart.
Patients struggling to move on after the death of a loved one are at risk of dying, due to inflammation.
Researchers, from Rice University, US, conducted interviews and tested the blood of 99 people whose spouses had recently died. They compared people who showed symptoms of ‘elevated grief’, like desiring for the deceased, trouble moving on, a sense that life is meaningless and inability to accept the reality of the loss, to those who did not show these behaviours.
People wih these symptoms suffered up to 17% higher levels of bodily inflammation, contributing to potentially deadly cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.
Inflammation contributes to almost every disease in older adulthood. While depression is linked to higher levels of inflammation, those who lose a spouse are at considerably higher risk of major depression, heart attack, stroke and premature mortality.
“However, this is the first study to confirm that grief, regardless of people’s levels of depressive symptoms — can promote inflammation, which in turn can cause negative health outcomes.”
Losing a loved one is very difficult and is not something you can expect to ‘get over’ quickly, no matter what stage in life it happens to you in, and there’s no ‘right’ way to cope with it. When people are struggling with the death of someone, it’s worth seeing their general physician who can give advice and may refer a counsellor.