A new study suggests that individuals who have experienced a heart attack, or who are at an increased risk of heart disease, have a better likelihood of survival if they are married. This, researchers say, could be due to the availability of a close support network.
Recently, several studies have looked at the effects of married life on an individual's health. The findings are often encouraging, suggesting that the closeness of married partners can have an important and beneficial psychosocial influence.
Likewise, a study presented last weekend at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, held in Barcelona, Spain, now suggests that married people also have a better survival rate when it comes to heart disease and heart attacks, and this may be due to the mutual support system provided by spouses.
Lead author Dr. Paul Carter and other colleagues from the Aston Medical School in Birmingham, United Kingdom, analyzed the data of 929,552 adults admitted to hospitals in England between 2000 and 2013.
These data were collected using the database of the Algorithm for Comorbidities, Associations, Length of Stay and Mortality (ACALM) study unit, which is a project that allows specialists to access and analyze large datasets.
Marriage has a protective role
Of the almost 930,000 people admitted to receive hospital care between 2000 and 2013, 25,287 had previously had a heart attack, 168,431 had hypertension, 53,055 exhibited high levels of cholesterol, and 68,098 had type 2 diabetes.
All the people whose data were collected were categorized according to their marital status as either single, married, divorced, or widowed.
The researchers found that marriage was a protective factor for people who had experienced a heart attack, as well as for those who had an increased risk of heart disease.
Married individuals who had had a heart attack were 14 percent more likely to survive than single individuals facing the same situation. Moreover, people with high cholesterol who were married were also 16 percent more likely to be alive in 2013, which was when the study ended.
People with diabetes had a 14 percent higher survival rate if they were married, and married individuals with hypertension had a 10 percent higher survival rate compared with single people.
Support networks are beneficial
The researchers have publicized these findings on previous occasions, but now they also suggest an explanation for the protective role that marriage appears to have on health.
"Marriage, and having a spouse at home, is likely to offer emotional and physical support on a number of levels [such as] encouraging patients to live healthier lifestyles, helping them to cope with the condition, and helping them to comply to their medical treatments."
Dr. Paul Carter
However, the same health benefits did not appear to extend to people who had been married and then went through a divorce.
"The nature of a relationship is important and there is a lot of evidence that stress and stressful life events, such as divorce, are linked to heart disease. With this in mind, we also found that divorced patients with high blood pressure or a previous heart attack had lower survival rates than married patients with the same condition," explains Dr. Carter.
Senior study author Dr. Rahul Potluri, founder of the ACALM study unit, suggests that the findings have important implications for individuals who have a high risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
He says, "Our findings are even more relevant to patients with cardiovascular risk factors who are at particularly high risk in that they are silently living with conditions that increase their risk of a heart attack without experiencing any symptoms."
This is because many such people lack support networks that might help them to overcome their medical difficulties, as suggested by the contrasting survival rates of single versus married people.
"It's important that patients with these dangerous, but preventable, risk factors follow the lifestyle and medication advice of their doctors to limit this risk, and social support networks are vital in doing so. This study confirms the importance of these psychosocial factors in patients with cardiovascular disease as a whole," concludes Dr. Potluri.