Stressful Marriage Increases Heart Disease Risk for Women

Marriages that are stressful are found to increase the risk of heart disease in women. A new study reveals that the risk of depression, leading to increased risk of heart disease, affects women, but the same results were not found in men who experience stressful marriages.

According to the study author, Nancy Henry, a doctoral student in psychology, "The gender difference is important because heart disease is the number-one killer of women as well as men, and we are still learning a lot about how relationship factors and emotional distress are related to heart disease."

The researchers studied 276 couples who were married an average of 20 years. The couples were aged 40 to 70. Everyone in the study filled out questionnaires designed to measure the quality of the couple’s marriage, warmth, friendliness, emotional support, and communication The questionnaires elicited information about how the couples might disagree about raising kids, in-laws and finances.

Blood tests and blood pressure measurements were performed to examine how marital stress affects health. The study showed that women were more likely to feel depressed, and had more risk factors for metabolic syndrome that can lead to heart disease as the result of a stressed marriage. Men also reported depression related to unhappy marriages, but the men did not experience the same health risks for heart disease, compared to women.

Tim Smith, a psychology professor and study co-author from University of Utah “Women really should consider the negative impact of an unhappy marriage on heart health.”There is good evidence they [women] should modify some of the things that affect metabolic syndrome – like diet and exercise – but it's a little premature to say they would lower their risk of heart disease if they improved the tone and quality of their marriages – or dumped their husbands."

Smith believes that metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that includes high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance, develops from depression, when women experience stress related to marriage.

Jokingly, Smith suggests women avoid men to reduce their risk of heart disease. The study does seem to show that a happier, stress-free marriage seems to be important for reducing the risk of heart disease in women.