Marital status ‘a risk factor for heart disease and stroke’

Unmarried people have a 42% higher risk of cardiovascular disease

Marriage may protect against the development of heart disease and stroke as well as influencing who is more likely to die of it, a global study has found.

The researchers at Keele University suggested marital status should be included as a risk factor for heart disease/stroke and likely survival in its own right.

Around 80% of cardiovascular diseases can be attributed to well-known risk factors such as age, sex, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes. It is not clear what influences the remaining 20%.

The study’s senior author, Professor Mamas Mamas, professor of cardiology at Keele University and consultant cardiologist at the Royal Stoke University Hospital, said the research suggests marital status should be considered in patients with or at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and should be used alongside more traditional cardiac risk factors to identify patients that may be at higher risk.

The research, published in the journal Heart, drew on 34 studies which involved more than two million people aged between 42 and 77 from Europe, Scandinavia, North America, the Middle East, and Asia.

Pooled analysis of the data revealed that, compared with people who were married, those who were never married, divorced or widowed had a 42% heightened risk of developing cardiovascular disease and 16% higher risk of and coronary artery heart disease.

Not being married was also associated with a heightened risk of dying from both coronary heart disease (42%) and stroke (55%).

The analysis showed that divorce was associated with a 35% higher risk of developing heart disease for both men and women, while widowers of both sexes were 16% more likely to have a stroke.

While there was no difference in the risk of death following a stroke between the married and the unmarried, this was not the case after a heart attack, the risk of which was 42% higher among those who had never married.

Lead researcher, Chun Wai Wong, from Keele University, said the findings could be attributed to the additional social and emotional support provided by having a spouse.

The authors cautioned that the methods used and adjustments made for potentially influential factors varied considerably across all the studies, which may have affected the results of their analysis. Similarly, there was no information on same sex partnerships, the quality of marriage, or the potential role of living with someone as opposed to being married to them.