Heartbreak Doesn't Just Hurt the Heart Emotionally
Loss of a partner boosts risk of atrial fibrillation by 41%
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2016 9:05 AM CDT

(Newser) – Yes, it is possible to die from a broken heart. Scientists from Aarhus University in Denmark say the loss of a partner boosts a person's risk of an irregular heartbeat—itself a risk factor for stroke, heart failure, and death—by 41%. The researchers, who reviewed medical data from nearly a million Danes, found the risk was the same regardless of gender or whether partners lived together or separately, though those whose partners died unexpectedly were 57% more at risk of atrial fibrillation, reports AFP. The risk also doubled for people under 60. Scientists say it was highest eight to 14 days after a death and continued, slowly declining, for a year. In other words, "just as time can heal an emotionally broken heart, it can also reduce the chances of developing a physically challenged one," reports the Los Angeles Times.

"Stress has long been linked to arrhythmia in the heart, and the acute stress of losing your partner in life constitutes one of the biggest impacts of psychological stress one would experience," says a researcher. "We wanted to examine that association." Medical records gathered from 1995 to 2014 showed 17,478 of 88,612 people diagnosed with atrial fibrillation for the first time had lost a partner within the previous year. "The 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," researchers say. Why? Scientists suspect it has to do with hormonal disturbance—perhaps too much adrenaline—or mental stress taking a toll on the nervous system. (Happiness also kills, and Vitamin D might help a damaged heart.)