Unexpected Loss of Life Partner Raises Risk of Atrial Fibrillation in Bereaved Spouse

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Simon Graff

Department of Public Health
Aarhus University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Dr. Graff: We knew that a substantial amount of evidence have accumulated, linking our mental wellbeing to our body. With that in mind we wanted to examine one of the (if not the most) most stressful life event; the loss of a partner! Former studies have ranked bereavement of a life partner as the most stressful life event we humans can experience.

Our study reports that spousal bereavement is followed by a transiently increased risk of new onset of atrial fibrillation (AF). The risk was highest 8-14 days after the loss and remains elevated for one year.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report? 

Dr. Graff: The risk of developing atrial fibrillation tended to be higher in bereaved persons younger than 60 years, and the effect was most dramatic in people who unexpectedly lost a healthy partner. Persons who lost at terminally ill partner did not have the same risk. The study indicates that persons experiencing severe mental stress from bereavement constitute a vulnerable group of patients who need special medical attention.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Graff:  Further research looking at whether the association found applies to more common, but less severe life stressors, is warranted. Moreover it would be interesting to see if any treatment before or after the loss of a partner modulates the risk.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Dr. Graff: It is still a topic of controversy, and we can only comment on our present findings. Still, these findings are very interesting and we hope to add further information to the scientific discussion.


Simon Graff, Morten Fenger-Grøn, Bo Christensen, Henrik Søndergaard Pedersen, Jakob Christensen, Jiong Li, Mogens Vestergaard. Long-term risk of atrial fibrillation after the death of a partner. Open Heart, 2016; 3 (1): e000367 DOI: 10.1136/openhrt-2015-000367

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Last Updated on April 7, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD