Nov. 22, 2022 — Being less stressed is generally associated with better heart health. Now, a large study shows that a less stressful, happier marriage is linked to better recovery in people who suffer a heart attack at a relatively young age — less than 55.
The researchers found that those who had the most stressful marriages were more likely to have chest pains or be hospitalized again in the year after their heart attack.
People with a stressful marriage had worse heart attack recovery compared to other heart attack survivors of the same age, sex, education and income levels, and employment and insurance status, their study found.
“I would tell young heart patients that stress in their marriage or relationship can negatively affect their recovery after a heart attack,” says Cenjing Zhu, a graduate student at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut. “Managing personal stress can be just as important as managing other clinical risk factors,” such as blood pressure, “during the recovery process.”
General advice for everyone is to be aware of whether you have common risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity or smoking, and for younger people to be aware of a family history of heart disease, particularly premature birth. says Zhu.
“Patients should know that there is a link between marital distress and delayed recovery” after a heart attack, says the AHA spokesman Nieca Goldberg, MD, who was not involved in this study.
“If they are experiencing marital distress, they should share the information with their doctor and discuss options for obtaining a referral for therapists and cardiac rehabilitation,” says Goldberg, MD Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Medical Director of Atria New York City.
“My final thought is that women have been said many times [by doctors] that her heart symptoms are due to stress,” she says. “Now we know that stress affects physical health and is no longer an excuse, but a contributing factor to our physical health.”
A many studies have reported that psychological stress is associated with poorer heart health outcomes, Zhu says.
However, little was known about the impact of a stressful marriage on younger heart attack survivors.
Researchers analyzed data from participants in a study called Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients (VIRGO).
That included 1,593 adults — 1,020 women — who were being treated at 103 hospitals in 30 states. Most of these heart attack survivors were married and 8% were married/living with a partner.
Most (90%) were between 40 and 55 years old, the rest were younger. Their median age was 47. Three quarters were White, 13% Black, and 7% Latino.
One month after their heart attack, they answered 17 questions on the Stockholm Marital Stress Scale about the quality of their emotional and sexual relationships with their spouses/partners. Then, 1 year after their heart attack, the patients answered several questionnaires about their health.
One year later, those reporting severe marital stress had significantly worse scores on physical health, mental health, general quality of life, and quality of life related to their heart health compared to those with no or mild marital stress.
Heart attack survivors with the most marital stressors were 49% more likely to report more frequent chest pain/angina and were 45% more likely to be readmitted to the hospital for any reason than those with no or little marital stress.
To learn Limitations include that the results are based on a self-reported questionnaire.
“Additional stressors beyond marital stress, such as financial stress or work stress, may also play a role in young adult recovery, and the interaction between these factors requires further research,” says Zhu.
The researchers will present their findings at the American Heart Association (AHA) 2022 Scientific Meetings, taking place this weekend in Chicago.