A stressful marriage may harm your heart health, study finds

Been meaning to restore calm and peace to your marriage? Here's another good reason

There may be a link between distress in marriage and a poorer outcome after a heart attack for people who are under 55, according to a new study.

"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 on Monday, Oct. 31, announcing the results. 

The preliminary research is to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022, which will be held in person in Chicago as well as virtually from Nov. 5-7, 2022.

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Zhu is a Ph.D. candidate at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut.

She added in the release that "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."

The study examined 1,593 young adults ages 18-55 who were treated for a heart attack at one of 103 hospitals located in 30 states. 

The study examined 1,593 young adults ages 18-55 who were treated for a heart attack at one of 103 hospitals located in 30 states.  (iStock)

The study examined 1,593 young adults ages 18-55 who were treated for a heart attack at one of 103 hospitals located in 30 states.

These adults were simultaneously enrolled in a study called "VIRGO," or "Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients," as the release noted.

All the people in the study were either married or in a "committed partnership" when they had a heart attack, the release indicated, and more than 66% of those in the study were women.

Marital stress was also connected to chest pains and readmission to the hospital within a year of the initial heart attack, the study found.

A month after their 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" marital stress levels.

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The participants were then studied for one year after their heart attack, the release said.

Zhu and her co-authors found that the people who had "severe stress levels" scored 1.6 points lower in physical health and 2.6 points lower in mental health on a 12-item scale than those with absent/mild stress levels.

Participants were scored as having "absent/mild," "moderate," and "severe" marital stress levels. 

Participants were scored as having "absent/mild," "moderate," and "severe" marital stress levels.  (iStock)

"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.

Marital stress was also connected to chest pains and readmission to the hospital within a year of the initial heart attack, the study determined.

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. 

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Poorer health outcomes existed even when controlled for the sex, age, race and ethnicity of the participant, according to the release.

Controlling for employment, education, income and health insurance status reduced the association, said the release — but "the link remained statistically significant." 

"My wife's daily emotional and mental support has no doubt aided in my being able to stabilize my a-fib," said one Boston-area man.

"My wife's daily emotional and mental support has no doubt aided in my being able to stabilize my a-fib," said one Boston-area man. (iStock)

One Boston-area man in his late 70s who has recurring atrial fibrillation of the heart said that to him, the Yale research makes sense: He has found that being happy and calm in his marriage has affected his own heart health positively.

"I know I am older than the patients in this study, but my wife's daily emotional and mental support has no doubt aided in my being able to stabilize my a-fib," he told Fox News Digital.

He added, "Love heals."

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Zhu said that in the future, 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."

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"A holistic care model built upon both clinical factors and psychosocial aspects may be helpful, especially for younger adults after a heart attack," she said. 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States: One person dies every 34 seconds from heart disease, according to the CDC.