Singing the Birthday Blues

People aged 60 and over are 14 percent more likely to die on their birthdays A recent study of more than two million people found that the birthday blues bring a rise in deaths from heart attacks, strokes, falls, suicides and even cancer.  The findings – based on a study over 40 years in Switzerland – back up the idea that birthday stress has a major impact on lifespans.  The majority of the increase was attributed to heart attacks, which rose 18.6 percent on birthdays and were significantly higher for men and women.  Levels of strokes were up 21.5 per cent – primarily in women – and there was a surprisingly large increase in cancer deaths in both sexes of 10.5 per cent.

Dr Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross, a senior researcher in psychiatry at the University of Zurich, said: Birthdays end lethally more frequently than might be expected.”  One notable person who died on his birthday is William Shakespeare, who passed away in 1616 of causes unknown.

The Swiss research is confirmed by data on Canadian hospital admissions showing that strokes are more likely to occur on birthdays than other days, especially among patients with a history of high blood pressure.  A substantial rise in suicides and accidental deaths for the over-60s on birthdays was found only in men.  There was a 34.9 percent rise in suicides; 28.5 percent rise in accidental deaths not related to cars; and a 44 percent rise in deaths from falls on birthdays.  The risk increases for about four days before the big day.

It was previously thought that people are more likely to die after their birthday as the thought of reaching a milestone would help them hold on for more time.  The researchers said this theory was disproved by their findings, and they support the anniversary reaction theory – also known as the birthday blues.

Dr Lewis Halsey, a senior lecturer in environmental physiology at the University of Roehampton, said: “One interesting finding is that more suicides happen on birthdays, though only in men.  The authors suggest that this increase could be related to them drinking more alcohol on birthdays.  But perhaps men are more likely to make a statement about their unhappiness when they think people will be taking more notice of them.  Or perhaps women feel that it is unfair on others who might be celebrating with them to put them through dealing with suicide.”

American researchers have found similar increases in heart deaths on Christmas and New Year’s Day.  They list stress among possible causes — and say people having chest pain or other symptoms might wait too long to get medical help on days when they are thinking about celebrating.

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