Marriage Helps Survival After Heart Surgery

August 22, 2011

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By Carina Storrs

MONDAY, August 22, 20111 (Health.com) — Marriage is thought to have a number of health benefits, including greater longevity, less stress, and a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Now, a new study suggests you can add a better survival rate after heart surgery to the list of health perks.

Overall, people who were married when they had coronary artery bypass surgery were 2.5 times more likely to be alive 15 years later than unmarried people, and the happily married fared better than those in unhappy marriages.

But there’s a catch: Men in the study seemed to benefit regardless of whether their marriage was good or bad (although happier unions were even more protective than unhappy ones). The picture was less clear for women, however.

Although researchers saw a similar effect in women as in men, married women ultimately had no survival advantage over single women. However, the study may not have had enough women—52 versus 173 men—to see an effect.

Kathleen B. King, PhD, RN, professor emeritus in the School of Nursing at the University of Rochester, in New York, and lead author of the study, says that the survival benefit, at least of a good marriage, would probably be the same for women as men.

Married people tend to have more support in making lifestyle changes, like eating better and exercising, and may experience less stress.

These health perks could be amplified for people who are happily married, King says. “They’re more likely to take the advice of someone they’re in a good marriage with. They’re more likely to have a reason to live.”

In fact, marital status was a better predictor of long-term survival after bypass surgery than traditional heart-disease risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and prior heart attacks.

And the benefit may be true for anyone in a long-term, supportive relationship, married or not. “I don’t think it has to be [a] traditional marriage,” King says.

The current study, published in Health Psychology, included 225 people who had heart bypass surgery between 1987 and 1990. The researchers asked patients about their marital status the day before their surgery, and asked people to rate their marriage satisfaction a year later. The researchers used hospital and national records to figure out the number of people who died within 15 years of their surgery.

Next page: Only 36% of unmarried men survived 15 years


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