People suffering from extreme cases of broken heart can actually die from it, a new study finds.
A team of Harvard researchers found that surviving spouses have a 66 percent higher risk of dying in the first three months after their partner's death. They also found that the effect of death and broken heart may be stronger in younger people.
The researchers analyzed more than 26,000 Americans over 50. The narrowed down their respondents to 12,316 people who were married in 1998 and followed them for the next ten years to determine which one became widows or widowers and recorded when they died. A total of 2,912 deaths took place during the study period. Of those, 2,373 were among married people who left a widow or widower behind. 539 of the deaths were among people who were widows or widowers themselves.
Results showed that the effect of death was at its strongest during the first three months after a spouse's death. Fifty of the 539 people died within three months of losing their spouse and 26 died between three and six months later. Forty four died between six and 12 months later. Earlier research showed men were at a greater risk of dying soon after a spouse than women.
Researchers involved in the study did not look into this difference but they accounted for the participants' income and wealth which may have had an influence in their findings. "It's possible it's a grief-related mechanism, or that providing care for the sick spouse causes illness in the surviving spouse," said lead study author Dr. S.V. Subramanian. "Or as one's spouse gets sicker, the surviving spouse stops take care of their own health," he added.