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Johnny Cash

After a death, how much can 'broken heart' hurt survivors?

You hear it whenever someone gets sick or dies soon after losing a spouse: Was it because of a broken heart? Stress might not be to blame for former President George H.W. Bush's hospitalization a day after his wife's funeral, but it does the body no favors, and one partner's health clearly affects the other's.

A sudden shock can trigger a heart attack or something like it called broken heart syndrome . Some studies also have found that people are more likely to die soon after losing a longtime spouse.

But often the timing is mere coincidence, and "broken heart" speculation just fuels a neat narrative when the problem is unsurprising in an older person with...