A broken heart can kill a parent

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Can parents die of a broken heart? Research shows that the death of a child in its infancy makes this highly possible.

It is commonly believed that the loss of a spouse or partner can cause a person to die of a broken heart.  But this does not stop with spousal loss alone. It now pertains to parents who suffer the loss of an infant as well.

Recent British studies show that parents who lose a new born baby are at a risk of premature death.   Upon investigating a random sample of national death registrations between the years 1971 and 2006 in the United Kingdom (UK), research headed by Mairi Harper of the University of York and published in the BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care, showed a comparitive study of deaths between parents who experienced stillbirth or lost a child in its first year of life, and those whose babies lived longer than a year.

The study yielded findings that proved bereaved parents were between two to four times likely to die early, within the first ten years of experiencing the death of a child or a stillbirth, as compared to parents whose babies have survived the first year. Child deaths in the UK occur at a high proportion and the increased rates of deaths among grieving parents were expressed to be a major concern by researchers.

Mothers at risk

The study also revealed that in England and Wales, mothers in particular were more than four times likely and Scottish mothers six times likely to die within the first 15 years following the death of the child, as against non-bereaved parents.  The risk reduced gradually over time, although they were still prone to premature death, unlike mothers who had not lost their child very early.

The Reasons

Causes for the increased death rates require further investigations, as sufficient data was unavailable to identify the risk factors. Researchers suspect that alcohol abuse could be a link, as could suicide.

stillbirth, loss of a child at birth

Stillbirth can cause major emotional trauma for parents.


Poor health of the parents themselves could be a contributing factor for stillbirths and infant deaths.  The report said “Further research is required to test these competing explanations for the increased mortality effect.” Stress from the grief may involve other physiological effects such as a suppressed immune system which makes the person prone to disease.

There are an estimated 80 to 120 stillbirths in Singapore on an average annually.

Read this article for more information on stillbirths.

Source: Diva (September 08, 2011)

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Written by

Sandra Ong