Have a tumultuous marriage can significantly impact heart health.
No one said that relationships are easy. In fact, they can be quite stressful. Relationships involve give and take, compromise and respecting and valuing each others’ differing views. Marriages, in which individuals are living in the same home, making use of the same space, can be especially difficult. In fact, data shows that 50% of U.S. marriages end in divorce. This means, couples who wed have a 50/50 chance of making it work for the rest of their lives.
Preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association (AHA)’s Science Sessions, held in Chicago, Illinois, the second week of November 2022, also suggests that marital distress can increase the risk of heart attack for those under age 55.
“Our findings support that stress experienced in one’s everyday life, such as marital stress, may impact young adults’ recovery after a heart attack,” said the study’s lead author, Cenjing Zhu, in a press release published Halloween day, announcing the results. Zhu is a Ph.D. candidate at the Yale School of Public Health.
She added, “Additional stressors beyond marital stress, such as financial strain or work stress, may also play a role in young adults’ recovery, and the interaction between these factors require further research.”
To study the correlation between stressful marriages and heart issues, the research team recruited more than 1,500 adults ages 18-55. The participants had all been treated for a heart attack at one of more than 100 hospitals across 30 states. Additionally, they all were either married or in a “committed partnership” when they had a heart attack. More than 66% were women.
The participants enrolled in a program called “VIRGO,” or “Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients.” The team found that marital stress was directly linked to chest pain and hospital readmissions within one year of the cardiac event.
A month after the heart attack, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire titled the “Stockholm Marital Stress Scale,” and were scored as having “absent/mild,” “moderate” and “severe” stress levels related to their marriage. The same participants were studied for a total of one year after their heart attack.
“Participants reporting severe stress levels [scored] almost 5 points lower in overall quality of life, and 8 points lower in quality of life when measured by a scale specifically designed for cardiac patients,” said the release. “Those with ‘severe’ stress levels were nearly 50% more likely to be readmitted to the hospital for any cause, compared to those with no marital stress. Poorer health outcomes existed even when controlled for the sex, age, race and ethnicity of the participant.”
Zhu said that the data shows, moving forward, medical professionals “should consider screening patients for everyday stress during follow-up appointments to help better identify people at high risk for low physical/mental recovery or additional hospitalization. A holistic care model built upon both clinical factors and psycho-social aspects may be helpful, especially for younger adults after a heart attack.”