The research finds that severe grief is tied to higher levels of inflammation and, consequently, cardiovascular disease
Heartbreak linked to poor health, even fatality says study
A study published this month by a team from Rice University in the Psychoneuroendocrinology journal and supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, notes that grief can lead to inflammation, which in turn is responsible for almost "every disease in older adulthood".
Grief, as characterised by this research, is the influx of strong negative emotions, notably deep longing and sadness. The study further links the emotion to the loss of a spouse, which manifests itself as preoccupation by the thoughts, memories and images of the loved one. This, in turn, puts people at risk for cardiovascular disease and premature death. This is the first study that could explain why there are so many cases of spouses passing away within days or weeks of one another.
The research team distinguishes between depression and grief, saying that while they share certain traits, the former can lead to low-grade inflammation, but that grief - regardless of a person's depressive symptoms - is likely to result in higher levels of inflammation.
The sample group was made up of 99 people whose spouses had recently passed away, and who were compared to monitor their symptoms of grief - such as yearning for the deceased, difficulty in moving on or accepting the loss, and a sense that life has become meaningless.
The team found that those who experienced these feelings had up to 17 per cent higher levels of bodily inflammation, compared to those who did not exhibit them. And people in the top one-third of that group had a 53.4 per cent higher level of inflammation than the bottom third.
Sometimes called the "broken-heart syndrome", intense grief and bereavement are dangerous both in the short and long-term. While no solution has been put forth by the team, previous studies suggest that grief ought to go through five main stages in functioning adults: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Reaching that last stage is difficult but imperative if we are to learn to live a healthy life without a loved one.