Could being married save your life? Doctor gives thoughts on new heart study

Last week, we revealed that people who were not married (either never married, widowed or divorce) had a 42 percent increase risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 16 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease and a 43 percent greater risk of dying from coronary heart disease and a 55 percent great risk of dying form a stroke.

The study, which was published in the journal Heart, looked at the marital status of people enrolled in 34 different studies of 2 million people.

Why would marriage or not being married matter when it comes to being heart healthy?

Dr. Paul Tucker, a cardiologist who practices at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, says the study made sense to him in what he’s observed in his practice. “I really do think there is truth to the study,” he says.

Melvin and Flora Mae Beck celebrated 60 years of marriage with a party at Sacred Heart Parish Hall on Oct. 7, 2017. Marriage could be a good thing in heart disease prevention. LEA ANN GOERTZ LEE FOR ACN

“When you’re married, you’ve got someone looking out for you,” he says. If your spouse sees that you are looking tired, or not looking well, or short of breath, “you’ve got someone looking out for you, calling you out on it, and saying, ‘Let’s get you to the doctor.'”

It could also be as simple as having someone there to call 9-1-1 if they do have a cardiac event, Tucker says, rather than being alone and not being able to call for help.

What he’s also observed is that patients often come in with their spouses when things aren’t going well. “There’s a lot of denial in men and women,” he says, “especially in men. They don’t want to believe that they (are sick). Typically, the wife spurs the visit.”

At that visit, the spouse will often reveal more information about what is really happening. “They definitely look out for each other and tattle on each other in a loving way,” Tucker says.

People who are married have this built-in support system, but you don’t have to be married to have that, Tucker says. Close friends, some sort of social network where people are looking out for you and expecting you to be there, can make a difference, too.

While we can’t point to specific marriage bio marker or biochemical in the body, we do know that people who are stressed have more cortisol or adrenaline, Tucker says.

Stress, emotional health and well-being, spiritual well-being, they all play a role in heart health, he says.

People who are not married, he says, can be prone to depression, which can create stress, and divorce or the loss of a loved one by death can be very stressful, he says. Marriage also might provide more financial stability and a feeling of more contentment in your life.

“We don’t know everything about heart disease,” Tucker says, but one thing he and other doctors see is something called stress cardiomyopathy. Doctors often refer to it as broken heart syndrome. It’s common in women who have lost a spouse, Tucker says, and it looks like a heart attack in that the heart muscle looks terrible, but there’s no blockage. “It’s been well-described around the world,” Tucker says. “We’ve all seen these cases.”