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Complications of Grief

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Topic Overview

Complications that can develop from grieving include depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and physical illness. If you or someone you know experiences any of the following problems, contact a doctor or mental health professional for counseling, medicine, or both.


Depression is the most common condition that can develop when a person is grieving. Depression is common in adults who experience a divorce or death of a spouse.

High levels of anxiety

Anxiety also is common during the grieving process. But anxiety can last longer than expected. And it can also become intense and include extreme guilt. Anxiety can:

  • Make you feel like you are losing control of your emotions. Overwhelming fear is also common.
  • Trigger episodes of physical symptoms (anxiety attacks) that you might mistake for a heart attack. During an anxiety attack, you are likely to have a feeling of intense fear or terror, difficulty breathing, chest pain or tightness, heartbeat changes, dizziness, sweating, and shaking.

Suicidal thoughts

Sometimes when grieving, people have thoughts of ending their own lives. If you have been depressed or have had thoughts of suicide in the past, you may be vulnerable to having suicidal thoughts while grieving.

Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you or someone you know is considering suicide.

Any thoughts of suicide must be taken seriously. The threat of carrying out the plan is very real if a person is thinking about suicide and:

  • Has the means (such as weapons or medicines) available to harm himself or herself or do harm to another person.
  • Has set a time and place to end his or her own life.
  • Thinks that there is no other way to end his or her pain.

Physical illness

Grieving stresses the body, weakens the immune system, and in general makes us more prone to illness, aches, and pains. People who have chronic medical conditions may have a recurrence or their symptoms may get worse when they are grieving. Adults who lose a loved one sometimes develop new health problems. Children can also have stress-induced physical problems while grieving, despite their youth and apparent resilience.


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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