Couple holding hands at sunset

Marriage and heart health

Could the affairs of the heart actually affect heart health? A recent study out of the University of Pittsburg suggests that the health of social relationships may be linked to personal health, including heart disease.

The study included 281 healthy, employed, middle-aged adults who were married or living with a partner with whom they were in a serious relationship. Their interactions were monitored hourly over the course of four days, with the partners rating their interactions as positive or negative. Carotid artery thickness was also measured. 

The measurements revealed that the individuals who reported more negative interactions had thicker carotids, placing them at an 8.5 percent greater risk of suffering heart attack or stroke than those with a surfeit of good feelings.

"Although such an association seems entirely plausible, it is difficult to prove a direct cause and effect," said Dr. Bradley Weinberg, cardiologist at Community Physician Network. 

While causality has not been proven, experts at Community do agree that there may be factors associated with unhappy relationships that lead to increased heart disease risk. 

"There is considerable evidence that stress contributes to poorer outcomes in many illnesses and this may be another example of this general phenomenon," said Weinberg.

Dr. Karamchand Paul, cardiologist at Community Physician Network, agreed, and stated that marital stress could lead to increased blood pressure that can eventually cause heart disease. 

"I have had many situations where cardiovascular disease is brought on by stress, both at work and at home. Recently, I had a patient who came to the Emergency Department with ruptured plaque and suffered a heart attack. She was having a rough time in her marriage and stress at home."  

He also mentioned that positive enforcement from a spouse when it comes to health can lead to better patient care.

"I have also seen that marital bliss leads to better patient outcomes," said Paul. "Either the wife or the husband insists on their spouse going to the doctor, quitting smoking, eating right, exercising and/or losing weight.

So what does this study show?

Healthcare providers not only look at blood pressure numbers when determining your heart disease risk, but your relationships and stressors as a point of assessment. 

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