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Bereavement May Compound the Symptoms of Chronic Illnesses

It’s bad enough if you are suffering from grief after the loss of a loved one, but when you also suffer from a chronic illness, bereavement may actually worsen your symptoms. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Awareness Day takes place in May, but now is a good time to bring awareness to this debility, which impacts daily activities and is marked by profound fatigue that does not go away with rest. But no matter what kind of chronic illness you have, from fibromyalgia and arthritis to COPD and dementia, the fact remains that grief compounds the symptoms of your disease, making it even harder to grieve for your loss in a healthy way. Bereavement services in Santa Clara and elsewhere can help get you through.

Infinite Losses

Generally speaking, grief is a reaction to a one, time-limited event like death, which is accompanied by a sense of finality. This can be terribly painful on its own for the people left behind, but that finality can also bring a sense of closure or resolution, says Social Work Today. In people without a chronic illness, the sadness over the death is followed by some kind of return to life as it used to be. There is an end in sight. Not so with chronic illness.

For those who are chronically ill, the losses are permanent and many and can be tougher to resolve. The losses are unending, which is why they are known as infinite losses, impacting a person’s life forever. Closure of the grief is elusive, as the person exists in an unrelenting state of bereavement. Let’s take multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, for example, both of which have an uncertain course over many years. This lifetime of uncertainty is tough on them on any given day, but when grieving, it can put them in a limbo state for long periods of time.

Physical Symptoms of Grief

Many of us, when experiencing the initial shock of grief, have physical symptoms, such as nausea, stomach pains, and fatigue. Grief can have prolonged and powerful effects on the body, too. For instance, grief can increase inflammation, which may worsen health problems such as arthritis, autoimmune diseases, hepatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, and asthma.

It can also adversely affect the immune system, leaving the grieving person depleted, tired, and vulnerable to infection points out WebMD. Grief also has a way of boosting blood pressure and thus, the risk of blood clots — even altering the heart muscle so much that “broken heart syndrome” can result.

Once the initial shock and adrenaline wear off, a person may experience extreme fatigue, nausea, headaches, food aversion, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness. So why does the body react in physical ways to the stress of grieving? Well, stress connects the emotional and physical aspects of bereavement, whereby the same systems in the body that process emotional and physical responses tend to overlap. That emotional stress triggers the nervous system just as easily as physical components can. When stress is chronic, such as during a period of grieving, increased blood pressure and adrenaline can contribute to or exacerbate chronic medical conditions.

Studies show that emotional pain will light up the same regions of the brain just like physical pain does. This is why many people who take opioids or even simple Tylenol find relief from their physical pain, to be sure, but also relief from emotional pain.

Stress and Grief

Grieving takes a big toll on the body in the form of — you guessed it — stress, which affects the entire body and particularly the immune system. Studies show that in those who are grieving, immune cell function is reduced and inflammatory responses are increased. When under stress, our bodies release a ton of stress hormones that can worsen existing conditions, such as diabetes or heart failure, or even create new ones, such as heartburn or high blood pressure. Stress can also trigger appetite changes and insomnia.

The stress of grieving can also lead to flare-ups of chronic conditions, such as fibromyalgia, lasting a few days to many weeks at a time. Those with this condition may experience an increase in back and neck pain, muscle spasms, fatigue, poor sleep, sensitivity to bright lights, confused speech, and migraines, for example. On top of that, the stress of coping with the loss of a loved one as well as the chronic condition can lead to depression and anxiety.

In conclusion, grief can worsen chronic condition symptoms of all kinds, as a response to the emotional stress of dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Here at Pathways, we offer grief support group options for family members and patients who also suffer from chronic illnesses, to make their journey a little bit easier. Please contact us today at 888-978-1306 to sign up for one of our many bereavement services.