Why Marriage Can Improve Your Odds of Surviving a Heart Attack

A lifelong partner can help get life back on track
Why Marriage Can Improve Your Odds of Surviving a Heart Attack

By: Steven Nissen, MD

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Marriage can be good for your health, with benefits that include a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and a longer life. New research also suggests that married people who have heart attacks are more likely to survive and spend fewer days in the hospital immediately after.

The results, presented recently at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference, found that married people were 14 percent less likely to die after a heart attack than single people. They also are more likely to be discharged from a hospital two days sooner than single people, the study found.

The researchers theorize that this may be because single and divorced patients have reduced social support at home, while married people have physical and emotional support to help them cope.

Examining data

The researchers, who were from institutions that included Aston Medical School and the University of East Anglia, studied a large patient database of heart attack patients admitted to hospitals in Northern England. They examined data from more than 25,000 patients diagnosed with heart attack between January 2000 and March 2013.

Nearly 12,000 were married, 2,500 were single, more than 1,000 were divorced, 4,000 were widowed, and more than 5,000 were unmarried. Participants were on average age 67; 80 percent were white; and 64 percent male.

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The married patients were 14 percent more likely to be alive than the single patients by the end of the study. The single patients didn’t have the worst level of risk, however. Divorced patients were 6 percent more likely to die during the seven to eight years of follow-up, compared to the patients who were never married.

Based on the findings, researchers concluded that marital status has a clinically important impact on heart attack survival and length of hospital stay as single patients showed higher mortality rates and longer length of hospital stay compared to married patients.

The researchers suggest that physicians and other health care providers should take their heart attack patients’ marital status into account when considering their recovery needs.

Support is key

This is a recurring theme in cardiology and cardiac surgery.

Suffering a heart attack or undergoing heart surgery is traumatic and having a partner who provides support, such as help with meal preparation, mobility and emotional needs, can reduce anxiety and promote healing.

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This reassuring presence can reduce anxiety and stress, both of which are known to activate hormones involved in causing cardiovascular complications.

For many patients, having someone around with whom they’re comfortable and who has been their lifelong partner can help to calm them down and help them to feel more secure. And that’s good when the heart is healing.

The good news is that patients don’t have to be legally wed to reap these benefits. Any lifelong partner — even a close friend — can help patients recover from a major heart event.

There is no better support system than someone who lives in the home with you, who’s been your lifelong partner. And it doesn’t have to be about marriage — it’s about having a partner. Whether you are married or you’re not married, having a partner makes a difference.

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