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Original research article
Long-term risk of atrial fibrillation after the death of a partner
  1. Simon Graff1,
  2. Morten Fenger-Grøn1,
  3. Bo Christensen2,
  4. Henrik Søndergaard Pedersen1,
  5. Jakob Christensen3,
  6. Jiong Li4 and
  7. Mogens Vestergaard1,2
  1. 1Department of Public Health, Research Unit for General Practice, Aarhus University, Aarhus C, Denmark
  2. 2Section for General Practice, Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus C, Denmark
  3. 3Department of Neurology, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus C, Denmark
  4. 4Section for Epidemiology, Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus C, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to Dr Simon Graff; Simon.graff{at}


Objectives Severe psychological stress is generally associated with an increased risk of acute cardiovascular diseases, such as myocardial infarction, but it remains unknown whether it also applies to atrial fibrillation. We conducted a population-based case–control study using nationwide Danish health registers to examine the risk of atrial fibrillation after the death of a partner.

Methods From 1995 through 2014, we identified 88 612 cases with a hospital diagnosis of atrial fibrillation and 886 120 age-matched and sex-matched controls based on risk-set sampling. The conditional logistic regression model was used to calculate adjusted ORs of atrial fibrillation with 95% CIs.

Results Partner bereavement was experienced by 17 478 cases and 168 940 controls and was associated with a transiently higher risk of atrial fibrillation; the risk was highest 8–14 days after the loss (1.90; 95% CI 1.34 to 2.69), after which it gradually declined. One year after the loss, the risk was almost the same as in the non-bereaved population. Overall, the OR of atrial fibrillation within 30 days after bereavement was 1.41 (95% CI 1.17 to 1.70), but it tended to be higher in persons below the age of 60 years (2.34; 95% CI 1.02 to 5.40) and in persons whose partner had a low predicted mortality 1 month before the death, that is, ≤5 points on the age-adjusted Charlson Comorbidity Index (1.57; 95% CI 1.13 to 2.17).

Conclusions The severely stressful life event of losing a partner was followed by a transiently increased risk of atrial fibrillation lasting for 1 year, especially for the least predicted losses.

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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