The review, published in the journal Heart, analyzed over 30 studies that involved more than two million people. The studies included information on people’s marital status and their risk for heart-related problems. An estimated 80% of a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease is related to issues like genetics or other health issues like high blood pressure or diabetes, the researchers say. But other factors, like social networks or partnership, may influence the other 20%.
The data showed that people who weren’t married were at a 42% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 16% higher risk of developing coronary artery disease compared to married people. Unmarried people were also at a higher risk of dying from heart problems. For people who were formerly married, the risks of heart-related disease were higher than for people currently married. People who were divorced had about a 35% higher risk of developing heart disease, and people who were widowed had a 16% higher risk of experiencing a stroke.
The study, while large, is limited in that it only used information from heterosexual couples and did not look at the quality of people’s relationships. It also didn’t look at the heart health of people who live with their partners but are not married. The study is observational, which means that the researchers cannot say for certain if the differences between married and unmarried people are due to factors unrelated to their martial status.
Why do people who are married seem to be protected against some heart disease risk? Being married could mean that one partner is able to recognize changes in the other’s health, or is able to respond more rapidly should a person have a heart-related event, the study authors speculate. If married partners both work, the dual income could also mean they have better health care. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the stress from a divorce could underline the higher risk for developing heart disease, as stress is thought to worsen heart health and exacerbate other health problems.
Of course, getting married is unlikely to become a public health recommendation. But the researchers argue that a person’s martial status should perhaps be considered during health reviews, especially for cardiovascular disease.