Recovering From A Heart Attack Is More Difficult For Those In Sad Marriages

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Couples who experience severe marital stress had worse physical and mental health when compared to couples little or no marital stress a year after a heart attack. This was what the researchers recently discovered and they believe that stressful marriages may actually cause further harm to heart attack survivors under 55 years old, as per this new study.

The old adage “love can break your heart” may actually be truer than you believe. That’s because problems within a relationship leads to high stress, which in turn can have a negative impact on heart health, included here is heart attack recovery, as researchers from he University of Rochester said.

Preliminary research that was presented last November at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022 saw how marital stress among younger adults between 18 to 55 years of age was connected to a more difficult recovery after a heart attack. Right now, the findings had not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“Healthcare professionals need to be aware of personal factors that may contribute to cardiac recovery and focus on guiding patients to resources that help manage and reduce their stress levels,” said Cenjing Zhu, a PhD candidate in the department of chronic disease epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut. He is also the lead author of the study and has stated this in a press release.

Marriage Issues May Bring About Chest Pain and Other Symptoms

For the group’s analysis, Zhu and her colleagues at Yale looked into hospital data on 1,593 adults who were either married or in a committed relationship and treated for a heart attack at 103 U.S. hospitals in 30 states across the country. These incidents happened in the years 2008 and 2012.

A month after the incident, the participants were asked to answer a questionnaire called the Stockholm Marital Stress Scale. This was designed to assess marital stressors such as the quality of the emotional and sexual relationship with their significant others. The answers they had sometimes spoke of specific difficulties. Included on the list were infidelity, substance abuse, and money-related issues.

The patients were then asked to go for a follow-up a year after the incident and based on the participants’ self-reported responses about stress, physical health, and mental health, Zhu and her team saw that people who had reported severe marital stress were 67 percent at a higher risk of experiencing chest pains. They compared them against those with little or no marital stress. Those who were in severe marriages had nearly a 50 percent greater risk of being readmitted from any cause.

The study also made sure to highlight those with high stress levels and saw that they scored lower on assessment tests that measured their physical health, mental health, and quality of life a year later.

Nieca Goldberg, MD, a clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, was not part of the research team, but she stressed how relationship issues are often not addressed especially when it comes to overall heart health.

“It’s about time that we looked at the impact of the quality of a relationship and how it impacts cardiovascular health,” she stated. “The healthcare system pretty much focuses more on physical health, and we need to look at this more as global health, incorporating both physical and mental health because they are dependent on each other.”

In terms of sex, Dr. Goldberg also said that survivors of a heart attack may face several fears and concerns, especially when it comes to how this will impact their health.

The doctor also said that investigation’s focus on those aged 18 to 55 have been recognized and that heart attacks among them have been on the rise, as Brigham Health Hub also noted. A study published in 2018 in the American Heart Association journal Circulation showed how hospital admissions for heart attack among those aged 35 to 54 steadily increased from 27 percent in 1995 to 1999 to 32 percent in 2010 to 2014. A study published in 2019 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology further validated this and confirmed that more heart attacks are happening for people under 40 years of age.

“Ultimately, we want everyone to prevent heart attacks, but we also want our messages about healthy hearts to get to younger people as well,” Goldberg said. She is also an expert volunteer with the American Heart Association.


Women at a Higher Risk of Experiencing Relationship Stress

Two-thirds of the people involved in the study were women with an average age of 47, and around three-quarters of them were white, 13 percent were Black, and almost 7 percent were of Hispanic descent.

From the participants, the researchers saw that women were more likely to verbalize their emotions and how they were undergoing significant strain from the relationship they were in. Almost 4 out of 10 women said that they were going through severe marital stress as compared to the 3 out of 10 men.

Goldberg said that women are often seen as the caregivers in the family. They took care of the children, prepared the meals, and did the shopping. When there is a shift in the roles within the relationship, this may add to the anxiety or the stress they’re experiencing.

“Additional stressors beyond marital stress, such as financial strain or work stress, may also play a role in young adults’ recovery [from heart attack], and the interaction between these factors require further research,” Zhu shared in the press release.

As for Goldberg, she said that if one partner has had a heart attack, they might be further worried about their health, which could also impact their overall health. They’ll also worry more about the relationship and on the overall health of their partner. “There has to be a greater emphasis on emotional stress and how that impacts physical health,” she further stated.