The idea that a loved one can "die of a broken heart" has been the staple of countless songs and sonnets.
Now scientists have come a step closer to saying it may just be true.
A study shows that if a spouse is admitted to hospital with a serious illness, the risk of death rises for the husband or wife.
And if the spouse goes on to die, the risk of the partner dying within a month is also significantly increased.
The study, carried out by American scientists, is the first of its kind to examine the so-called "caregiver burden," the effect of a spouse's illness on their partner and the increased risk of death.
Nicholas Christakis, Professor of Medical Sociology at the Harvard Medical School, said: "When a spouse is hospitalized, the partner's risk of death increases significantly and remains elevated for up to two years. Our study shows that people are connected in such a fashion that the health of one person is related to the health of the other.
"It also suggests that diseases that are more disabling are more likely to result in disease and death in the caregiving spouse."
Professor Christakis and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania studied more than half a million couples over 65 between 1993 and 2001.
The researchers found that if a spouse is hospitalized, the risk of death for a man increases by 22 percent, while the risk for the woman increases by 16 percent. They also found that the period of greatest risk is over the short run, within 30 days of a spouse either going into hospital or dying. If the wife dies, the risk of the husband dying in the following month is increased by 53 percent. If a husband dies, the wife's corresponding risk of death rises by 61 percent. The study, published in this month's New England Journal of Medicine, also concluded that certain illnesses can have more harmful effects on the well-being of the partner. If a wife requires treatment for colon cancer, for example, there is almost no effect on the husband's subsequent mortality. But if the wife has heart disease, the risk of death for the husband increases by 12 percent. Conversely, if the husband is in hospital for psychiatric disease, the wife's risk of death is 32 percent higher. And if the husband is in hospital for dementia, the likelihood of his wife dying is increased by 28 percent. Professor Christakis said, "Spousal illness may impose stress on a partner or deprive a partner of social, emotional, economic or other practical support." Source: Source: Daily Mail; London (UK). Powered by Yellowbrix.
Source: Health & Wellness