Mourning a loved one could increase your risk of heart disease

Mourning the loss of a loved one or being told you have cancer ‘could increase your risk of heart disease by 64%’

  • People with a stress disorder, like PTSD, have the significant heart risk  
  • Heart failure tends to affect patients in the first year, before blood clots take hold
  • Other traumatic life events may include being diagnosed with a deadly disease 

The stress of losing a loved-one could increase your risk of heart disease, research suggests.

People who suffer stress-related disorders, such as PTSD, are 64 per cent more at risk heart failure within the first year of a traumatic event.

Researchers studied patients with stress-related disorders – a group of psychiatric conditions triggered by a stressful life event.

Such events can include the grieving a loved one, being diagnosed with a deadly illness, natural disasters or being violently attacked. 

The stress of losing a loved-one could increase your risk of heart disease by 64 per cent (stock)

Past studies investigating the link between stress and heart disease have mostly focused on war veterans with PTSD. 

But researchers at the University of Iceland and the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, wanted to determine how stressful life events affect the public. 

They analysed 136,637 people who were diagnosed with a stress-related disorder between 1987 and 2013.

As well as PTSD, another example is acute stress reaction, when people develop anxiety, flashbacks or palpitations after a stressful event.

And adjustment disorder occurs when a person experiences more stress than would be expected in response to a ‘simple issue’, such as a new job.

The patients in the study were compared against their brother or sisters, which came to a total of 171,314 siblings.

Each patient was also matched against ten randomly-selected people of the same sex and birth year, but were free of any stress-related disorders or heart disease. 

Results – published in The BMJ – suggest ‘stressed people’ are more likely to develop cardiovascular disorders when faced with a traumatic life event. 

The risk is worst during the first year after the event, when patients are 64 per cent more at risk of heart disease than their siblings.


Simply looking into a person’s eyes may indicate how stressed they are, research suggests.

Scientists from the University of Missouri, Columbia, discovered the size of our pupils changes erratically when we are forced to multitask or faced with unexpected changes.

They hope this will lead to a tool that employers can use to monitor how their staff are coping, before they become overwhelmed.

Lead author Dr Jung Hyup Kim – an assistant professor in the industrial and manufacturing systems engineering department – said: ‘It would be great if people could work perfectly every time.

‘But when you’re tired, you often make a mistake.

‘So, if we can monitor a worker’s mental well-being, then we can hopefully prevent future mistakes from happening.’

The link was strongest for early-onset heart disease – which occurs before 50 years old – than conditions that develop in later life.

And blood clots become more of a risk a year after the ordeal, according to the results of the study.

The results were similar when the patients were compared against members of the public.  

And those diagnosed with a stress-related disorder at a young age were more at risk.  

Lead researcher Dr Huan Song said the study showed a ‘clear association’ between stress-related disorders and a higher risk of heart disease. 

The results remained true even after adjusting for the patients’ upbringings, medical history and any other psychiatric conditions. 

‘Most people are, at some point during their life, exposed to psychological trauma or stressful life events such as the death of a loved one,’ Dr Song said.

‘Accumulating evidence suggests that such adversities might lead to an increased risk of several major diseases and mortality.’ 

The study did not compare the effects of different stressful life events, such as bereavement versus unemployment. 

The researchers warned the results were only observational and further studies on the subject are required.  

Professor Simon Bacon, from Concordia University, Montreal, agrees more research is needed, though he was not involved in the study.

In an editorial, he suggested reverse causation – where people with underlying heart disease are more prone to developing stress disorders – could be to blame.

Professor Bacon wrote: ‘Heart failure is often a slowly evolving chronic disease, so reverse causation cannot be ruled out entirely.’   

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