Bereavement is associated with reduced systemic inflammation: C-reactive protein before and after widowhood.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Bereavement is associated with poorer health and early mortality. Increased systemic inflammation is one pathophysiological pathway thought to explain this health risk. However, few studies have examined systemic inflammation before and after widowhood.


The current study examined the associations between inflammation and widowhood status before and after bereavement in a sample of married adults who became widowed between assessments in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.


We examined levels and change over time in systemic inflammation, as assessed by C-reactive protein (CRP), among participants who became bereaved (n = 199). We then compared these results to a sample of participants whose spouse remained living, selected using a propensity score matching algorithm (n = 199).


Contrary to expectations, widowed participants' CRP decreased following bereavement, d = -0.29, p < 0.001. Change in CRP was not associated with pre-loss depression levels, caregiving status, marital quality, number of chronic diseases, prescribed medications, body mass index, age, or sex. Compared to continuously married participants, widowed participants' evidenced a significantly greater decrease in CRP after their spouse's death, β = -0.14, p < 0.001.


Widowed adults' systemic inflammation decreased significantly following bereavement, both as a group and compared to people who remained married. We discuss possible explanations for this counterintuitive finding, including the measure of inflammation used in the study and the timing of the study measurements.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Bourassa, KJ; Cornelius, T; Birk, JL

Published Date

  • August 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 88 /

Start / End Page

  • 925 - 929

PubMed ID

  • 32283288

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC7415735

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1090-2139

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0889-1591

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.bbi.2020.04.023


  • eng