According to Time magazine, an immense amount of research has shown that a death or the loss of a person close to you can not only break your heart metaphorically, but it can also cause physical damage that can lead to serious heart problems.
A new study published by Dr. Simon Graff finds that people who experience a partner dying are a much higher risk for atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, and the effects are life-long.
For many years, researchers have studied the phenomena of the broken heart syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy. This occurs when a highly stressful event, such as the death of a spouse, results in a person feeling like they’re having a heart attack. The symptoms include the same ones that occur when having a heart attack: shortness of breath and chest pain.
When an emotional event happens, researches suspect a surge of stress hormones are released which cause this feeling of having a heart attack.
Researchers looked at citizens in Denmark who were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Out of the 88, 600 people, 41 percent of them who lost a partner were more likely to develop atrial fibrillation within the first month of their partner’s death compared to those who hadn’t lost anyone. The researchers also discovered that the risk is higher in younger people, especially when a partner as died suddenly or unexpectedly.
A cardiologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, Harmony Reynolds, states that “We can’t stop stressful situations from coming up in our lives but there may be ways to change the way stress affects our bodies.” She says regular exercise, things like yoga, meditation, and even deep breathing can increase the parasympathetic nervous system which increase our body’s ability to handle stress. However, these activities won’t be able to reduce the risk completely.
This study, as large and somewhat thorough as it is, can’t completely confirm that the feelings of grief or loss are directly related to atrial fibrillation. “Right now our work can only point to an association, but 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,” says Graff, the author of the study.