There may be more to the symbolic term ‘heartbreak’ than just grief and sorrow. A study conducted at St. George’s University in London (United Kingdom) has shown that the grief associated with the loss of a partner may correlate with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in the surviving partner.

The risk was observed to be the highest within a 30 day period after the death of a partner. The study was conducted with some 116,000 participants – 30,447 bereaved partners and a control compromising 83,588 who were not experiencing bereavement from the loss of a partner. It showed that death from heart attacks and strokes were twice as high among the bereaved group in comparison to the control.

Partners Die Shortly After Each Other

It is not uncommon to hear of an elderly person dying a short while after they lose their partner. Despite the romanticism associated with this type of heartbreak, there may be scientific reasons for this phenomenon. Bereavement is known to cause significant psychological and physical stress on the body.

doctor with a senior patient

There are numerous changes that may arise from stress as well as the resulting change in diet and lifestyle. Other studies have shown that the alterations in heart rate, blood pressure and blood clotting can be deadly. People with pre-existing conditions, mainly cardiovascular diseases, are therefore at an increased risk of a life-threatening events like a heart attack or stroke.

With the rising incidence of cardiovascular disease like coronary artery disease in younger adults, the risk may not only be seen among the elderly. However, the St. George’s University study focused on people over the age of 6o years. Furthermore it was found that after 30 days the risk began to fall.

Poor Compliance With Chronic Medication and Loneliness

Another study has found that in the months following the loss of a partner, the surviving partner may not consistently take preventative medication for cardiovascular diseases. This includes drugs for lowering cholesterol and preventing blood clots.

As a result the risk of death from cardiovascular events like a heart attack or stroke increases.

This is further compounded by loneliness among seniors who have lost a life partner. A 2010 study had shown that the risk of early death increases significantly with loneliness, and may be equivalent to double the risk associated with obesity. This mainly applied to socially isolated seniors with poor support systems.


Carey et al. Increased Risk of Acute Cardiovascular Events After Partner Bereavement. JAMA Internal Medicine (2014).