(CNN) – The world has joined Queen Elizabeth II in grief over the loss of her husband of seven decades on Friday, Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, just two months before her 100th birthday.
With the loss of what the Queen calls “constant love and assistance,” attention is now turning to the Queen’s well-being. The death of a loved one is a blow every time, but losing a partner after years of being together can be very difficult.
Studies it has been shown that surviving partners may suffer from sleep disorders, depressive episodes, anxiety, impaired immune function, and poorer overall physical health.
For those concerned about the Queen at a time of great personal loss, many may wonder if there is medical evidence of grief affecting one’s health.
Broken heart syndrome is real
Known as stress cardiomyopathy, “broken heart” syndrome is a documented medical condition.
Broken heart syndrome occurs when the heart is suddenly stunned, is in acute stress, and the left ventricle is weakened. Instead of contracting into a normal arrow-like shape, the left ventricle fails to function, creating a rounder, pot-like shape.
First described in 1990 in Japan, heartbreak is so similar to a Japanese octopus trap called takotsubo that doctors have begun to refer to the condition as Takotsubo’s cardiomyopathy.
“The heart actually changes shape in response to acute emotional distress, such as following a break in a romantic relationship or the death of a loved one,” says New York cardiologist and author Dr. Sandeep Jauhar to CNN. in a previous interview.
In many cases, however, when the acute emotional stress disappears, the heart recovers and returns to its normal shape, Jauhar said.
“But I have had patients with acute congestive heart failure, life-threatening arrhythmias, and even death from this condition,” said Jauhar. “I think that is the clearest example of how our emotional life directly affects our hearts.”
This syndrome is most commonly experienced by women (90% of cases occur in women), by people with a history of neurological problems, such as seizures, and by people with a history of mental health problems.
The ‘widow effect’
There is another medical reality that can occur when a long relationship ends, research shows.
“The increased likelihood of a recently widowed death – often called the” widow effect “- is one of the best documented examples of the health effects of social relationships,” writes Dr. Nicholas Christakis, who runs The Human Nature Lab at Yale University and co-author Felix Elwert, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in a seminal 2008 study.
That risk of an elderly man or woman who died from any cause increased by between 30% and 90% in the first three months after the death of a partner, then fell to about 15% in the following months. The widow effect has been documented in all ages and races around the world.
Christakis and Elwert followed a representative sample of 373,189 older married couples in the United States from 1993 to 2002 and found that “being widowed did not uniformly increase the risk of all causes of death”.
When a partner dies from sudden death, such as an accident or infection, the risk of death by the surviving partner increases, the study found. The same is true for chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung or colon cancer that require careful patient care or prevention.
However, if a partner dies of Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, there is no impact on the surviving partner’s health – perhaps because the partner has had sufficient time to prepare for the loss of their partner.
Regardless, “the death of a partner, for whatever reason, is a significant threat to health and poses a substantial risk of death from any cause,” Christakis and Elwert wrote.
What can be done
Support is the key to how well a person can cope with their partner’s death. Many people find grief counseling helpful, according to US National Institute of Aging.
In Great Britain, people can get psychological therapy without reference from a general practitioner. The UK’s National Health Service recommends getting in touch if you have been in a bad mood for more than two weeks or a method you tried yourself didn’t help.
AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) also has this advice for survivors.
Don’t be bold: Surround yourself with people you don’t need to pretend to be okay with. “Grieving is a very brave and strong act; not for the weak,” said AARP.
Be kind to yourself: Get enough rest. “The more significant the loss, the deeper and longer the recovery process,” said AARP.
Expect a variety of emotions, not just sadness: According to the AARP, “your feelings can run as a whole from sad to angry to hopeless to the occasional look of happiness – and come back again. If you could only feel sad, you would be trapped in endless despair.”
Don’t hide from people: “Grief is a fairly lonely process without also isolating yourself,” says AARP. Try your best to connect with friends and family and let them help. “When caregivers accept the idea that seeing friends makes them tougher, they no longer feel guilty for having fun,” association word.