Common conditions that share symptoms with grief

The standard advice is that grief is hard on your physical and mental health so feeling awful in the early days is normal. When we ask how long before we can expect to stop feeling awful, we’re told that it’s different for everyone.


There is a world of good intentions in this advice. It’s a reaction against years of bereaved people being expected to ‘just get over it’. It’s also about not treating a normal process as if it’s a disease. It is also all completely true.


However, assuming that everything after the death of your partner is just down to grief, is not a good plan for your health.


Many problems unrelated to grief, share symptoms with it so if you are at all worried you should see your doctor.


Tiredness, memory problems and difficulty in concentrating are common symptoms of grief, acute stress reaction (shock) and a trauma reaction. We can expect the first two, and the third is also common.


However, tiredness, memory problems and difficulty in concentrating are all also common signs of depression, underactive thyroid and peri menopause. They can also indicate overwork, a drug or alcohol problem, a lack of iron or potential anemia.


It is important to get treatment for depression. There are many advances now being made in available treatments and considerably more understanding among the medical profession.


Symptoms of peri menopause and underactive thyroid are very similar but a simple blood test can tell the difference. Hypothyroidism can affect anyone at any time but is particularly common after the age of sixty. It can be treated quite easily with drugs.


Some people opt for drugs to help them with the symptoms of menopause while others embark on lifestyle changes.


Low iron or anemia can have a range of causes from heavy periods to being a sign of a more serious condition. Go along to your doctor to find out if you should just be eating more spinach or if there’s something else going on.


If you have problems with stress or substance abuse, whether brought on by circumstances related to the death of your partner or not, again, the sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you’ll start to find things slightly easier to cope with.


If you’re working like a slave to pay off debts caused by the death of your partner, or caused by anything else, phone Step Change on 0800 138 1111, or any other debt charity.


Symptoms you should never ignore include: chest pains, shortness of breath, headaches, unexplained weight loss, blood from anywhere that doesn’t usually bleed, a fever, suddenly slurred speech, swelling in the legs, flashes of light or suddenly blurred vision, and sudden and sever pain – anywhere really but particularly in your abdomen. If you experience any one of these things, call your doctor immediately.


If chest pains are crushing and extending along your arms or slurred speech is accompanied by weak or numb arms or face, then call for an ambulance as the first could be a heart attack and the second could be a stroke.


One of the biggest worries we have when our partner dies is who’s going to call the doctor when we’re sick and look after us until we get better. The best way to tackle that fear is to get very good at taking care of your own health.


First published in Widows and Widowers magazine, issue 13

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