It might sound melodramatic, but losing a loved one really could break your heart, research suggests.

People who lose a partner are at an increased risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for the next 12 months, scientists have found.

The condition, atrial fibrillation, affects around 35,000 New Zealanders and increases the chance of a stroke and heart failure.

People who become bereaved are over 40 per cent more likely to develop the condition than those who have not lost a partner, researchers found.


Scientists in Denmark collected data from almost 89,000 people diagnosed with atrial fibrillation between 1995 and 2014, which they compared to the medical records of 886,000 healthy people. Some 17,478 of those diagnosed with the condition had lost their partner, as had 168,940 of the comparison group.

The risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for the first time was calculated to be 41 per cent higher among those who had been bereaved.

The study, published in the medical journal Open Heart, found that the risk was highest eight to 14 days after the loss.

Bereaved people under the age of 60 were revealed to be more than twice as likely to develop atrial fibrillation.

Risk was also heightened when the death was deemed to be unexpected - those whose partners were relatively healthy in the month before death were 57 per cent more likely to develop an irregular heartbeat.

"The loss of a partner is considered one of the most severely stressful life events and is likely to affect most people, independently of coping mechanisms," wrote the Aarhus University scientists.

Maureen Talbot, of the British Heart Foundation, said: "Studies to increase understanding of the cause of this finding are needed but it is important to ensure the newly bereaved, regardless of their age, are monitored and supported by their loved ones and to see their GP if they experience any symptoms."

- Daily Mail