In a study seemingly designed for cheesy songwriters, researchers have discovered that it is possible to die from a broken heart.
What they really mean is that a surprising number of widows and widowers die within three years of losing their spouses.
Researchers at St. Andrews University in Scotland have called it the “widowhood effect.” They say that it effects couples of all ages, not just the elderly—as you might expect.
The study, published in the journal Epidemiology, examined the records of more than 58,000 married couples from 1991 onward. The researchers found that 26 percent of men and 40 percent of women died within three years of their partners.
In 12 cases, both husband and wife died on the same day. In a further 38, the deaths came within 10 days of each other. The study concluded that people were most likely to pass within six months of their partner.
However, there wasn’t one common cause across the marriages. Causes ranged from accidents and suicide to cancer and heart disease. The researchers still believe that the evidence is there and that some sort of correlation exists between the deaths of a husband and wife.
Paul Boyle, the study’s leader, said:
The key message is that it doesn’t matter what causes of death you look at there is still a widowhood effect. This is a clear demonstration, we would argue, that social effects, such as losing a partner, have an impact on life expectancy. We now have robust evidence that the widowhood effect does exist and that people who lose a partner deserve support because it can leave them in a vulnerable situation.
The “widowhood effect” is believed to last for up to 10 years.