LOSING a loved one really can lead to a broken heart, new research has found.

Traumatic life events such as bereavement can impact on physical as well as mental health, according to work led by Scottish researchers who found that losing a partner or family member does not just impact on levels of anxiety and depression, but also on health conditions - particularly heart disease.

The survey of more than 1000 native Chinese living in Hong Kong also found conditions such as high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, eyesight degeneration and hearing loss are more likely in people who had experienced bereavement.

Thanos Karatzias, professor of mental health at Edinburgh Napier University, who led the study with colleagues from NHS Lothian and Hong Kong University, said: "There is a strong association between physical health and traumatic life events.

"The more traumatic life events people have in their histories, the more likely they are to report physical ill-health, particularly heart disease. So the broken hearts we talk about - they do exist."

The study, published in this month's Journal of Psychosomatic Research, is the first study of its kind in an Asian population.

Participants were asked if they had a diagnosis of six health conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, eyesight degeneration and hearing loss.

They were also asked if they had experienced five adverse life events including death of a partner or spouse, abuse, a natural disaster, life-threatening illnesses or injuries, and family disruption.

Bereavement was found to be significantly associated with all six health conditions.

Surprisingly, an experience of a natural disaster or a history of physical or sexual abuse were not significantly associated with poorer health - a finding at odds with previous studies of western populations.

Karatzias said one possible explanation was because the study was carried out in an area which experiences many natural disasters - so people living in Hong Kong may have good skills to cope with these type of events.

He said the finding on abuse was more surprising, but suggested the ill-health resulting from this could be more likely to manifest itself in "medically unexplained symptoms" - such as pain where the cause cannot be pinpointed - rather than a diagnosed condition.

Karatzias said that the findings should prompt public health bodies to consider giving greater emphasis to individuals' personal histories.

"Stress can pre-dispose you to all sorts of conditions and if you have events like losing someone, bereavement or significant natural disasters, then you are living at stress for a significant period of time," he said.

"Another link is health behaviours - so the more stress you experience, the more likely you are to smoke and to drink, for example.

"We made this assumption trauma equals poor mental health - but we haven't thought as extensively about physical health and I think should be the next step."

Christopher Allen, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Your risk of cardiovascular disease, which can lead to heart attack and stroke, can be reduced by making positive lifestyle changes.

"But it is unclear how this risk is affected by our emotional wellbeing, and whether stressful events in our lives such as bereavement can have an impact.

"This study touches on some of these issues, but more research is needed to better understand if there is a firm link."