In 2015, the tragic story of Doug Flutie's parents spread across social media. In one day, Flutie lost both his father and his mother. His father died first. Upon seeing her husband of more than 50 years dead, Flutie's mother had a heart attack and also passed away. The story became an example of how someone can die of a broken heart. A new study suggests that this phenomenon is actually rooted in some scientific evidence. The study was conducted in Denmark and published in a medical journal called Open Heart. At The Guardian, Agence France Presse broke down the results of the study and what they mean for the bereaved. This report is not all that surprising to me, as I myself have suffered from health problems since the death of my father. I often feel that I am slowly dying of a broken heart.
The death of a life partner may trigger an irregular heartbeat, itself potentially life-threatening, according to research into the risk of dying from a broken heart.
A trawl of data on nearly one million Danish people showed an elevated risk, lasting about a year, of developing a heart flutter. Those under 60 whose partners died unexpectedly were most in peril.
Several studies have shown that grieving spouses have a higher risk of dying, particularly of heart disease and stroke, but the mechanism is unclear.
The latest study asked specifically whether bereaved partners were more likely than others to develop atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat and a risk factor for stroke and heart failure.
Researchers in Denmark used population data collected between 1995 and 2014 to search for a pattern.
Of the group, 88,612 people had been newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF) and 886,120 were healthy.
“(T)he risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for the first time was 41% higher among those who had been bereaved than it was among those who had not experienced such a loss,” said the study led by Simon Graff of Aarhus University.
The team cautioned that no conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, as the study was merely an observational one, looking at correlations in data.