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Unhappy Marriage Boosts Women Heart Disease Risk

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Unhappy marriage and heart disease

A strained marriage can lead to heart disease risks for women. A new study show the chances of developing depression, leading to metabolic syndrome and obesity is worse for women in strained marriages than for men. The result is increased heart disease risk for women who are in an unhappy marriage.

Study author, Nancy Henry, a doctoral student in psychology, says, "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 looked at 276 couples, married an average of 20 years, ranging in age from 40 to 70. The couples filled out questionnaires reflecting quality of marriage, emotional support, warmth, friendliness, and communication among the couples. The questionnaires also looked at depression resulting from disagreement over kids, in-laws and money.

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The couples received blood tests, and blood pressure measurements to examine how strained marriages might affect health. The scientists found that women in unhappy marriages were more likely to feel depressed, and had more risk factors for metabolic syndrome that can lead to heart disease. Men also reported depression from strained marriages, but did not show the same signs of health risk factors related metabolic syndrome as seen among women.

Tim Smith, a psychology professor and study co-author from University of Utah jokingly suggests women avoid men to reduce their risk of heart disease. On a more serious note, Smith says, 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."

Improving mood by making a concerted effort toward a happy marriage is most likely to keep women healthier, and reduce risk of heart disease found among women in unhappy marriages. Smith believes metabolic syndrome probably develops from depression in women who are in unhappy marriages. Intimacy and marital bliss seem to be important for physical health in women. The study may be important for helping women reduce risk of heart disease.




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