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How George H.W. Bush's grief could impact his physical health

By Shannan Rouss ; Updated April 26, 2018

Just one day after the funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush, George H.W. Bush was admitted to hospital — prompting many to wonder if he could be experiencing the effects of “a broken heart.”

George and Barbara Bush spent the majority of their lives together, meeting as teenagers and staying married for 73 years. In a statement following the death of Barbara Bush, granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager wrote: “Their love story is so engrained in the history of our family. Thinking of my Gampy tonight — no doubt missing his beloved desperately.”

The 93-year-old former president had contracted an infection that spread to his blood. Spokesman Jim McGrath said in his most recent statement that Bush was out of intensive care.

“He is alert and talking with hospital staff, family and friends, and his doctors are very pleased with his progress,” McGrath went on to say.

Still, many continue to wonder about the timing of Bush’s hospitalization, connecting it to the “widowhood effect,” an increased risk of death and hospitalization after losing a spouse. In fact, research from the Harvard School of Public Health found a 66 percent increased chance of dying in the first three months after losing a partner.

There’s also “broken heart syndrome” — known to the more erudite among us as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy. According to the American Heart Association, the condition is triggered by something traumatic like the loss of a loved one. As a result, there is a surge in the body’s stress hormones, which temporarily enlarges the heart and makes pumping blood more difficult.

And grief doesn’t just have a physical effect on the heart. “A lot of things happen when people are overcome with sadness — neuroendocrine changes, which include an increase in cortisol levels, can suppress immune response,” Dr. Ilan Wittstein told the New York Times.

But other experts point out that it’s hard to conclusively link the former president’s hospitalization to his wife’s passing. After all, he is 93 and noticeably frail.

The idea of the widowhood effect “appeals to our romanticism,” said Donald Berry, a statistician at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, in the New York Times.

Regardless of the underlying cause of his current health scare, we’re happy that 41 is on the mend and wish him a speedy recovery.

Read more: The Most Over-the-Top Celebrity Declarations of Love

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