Marriage could save your life

24 June 2018

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Marriage may protect against heart disease and stroke, according to a new study...

Risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease include height, age, sex, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking. But these account for only 80% of all cases. So what about the remaining twenty per cent?

According to a new study published in the journal Heart, the answer might be marital status.

Cardiologist Mamas Mamas, from Keele University in the UK, explored the relationship between marital status and cardiovascular health.

“Often in my clinical practice I have patients that come and see me, and the only reason they came in is because their husband or their wife told them to. Which made me think that maybe marital status of a patient can give us additional information,” says Mamas.

The research team compiled data from 34 separate studies, all published between 1963 and 2015. The data covers over 2 million people between the ages of 42 and 77, located in North America, Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East, and Asia.

The results of the analysis were surprising: compared with married patients, the unmarried were 42% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, and 16% more likely to develop coronary artery heart disease.

In addition, the likelihood of mortality is also much higher for those who are unmarried: they are 42% more likely to die from coronary heart disease, and 55% more likely to suffer a fatal stroke.

Mamas and his team broke down the unmarried patient category to assess those who are divorced or widowed. The results of the analysis showed that those who get divorced are 35% more likely to to develop heart disease, and 16% more likely to have a stroke, regardless of their sex.

So why is marriage good for our health? “There is an aspect of spousal pressure, like when a partner forces the other to seek medical attention, or adopting a healthy lifestyle after a heart attack, for example," explains Mamas. "Then there is also having a spouse to take you to rehabilitation or outpatient clinics, or to ensure that you take your medication. That is key in the prevention or recovery processes."

Same-sex partnerships, quality of marriage, and living with a roommate or family member rather than a spouse were outside the scope of the present study, also Mamas speculates that any sort of close, caring reltionship is likely to be helpful.

And marriage might benefit other conditions too. "I think marital status is really important across the whole of medicine, for all diseases," concludes Mamas.

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