Marriage protects against cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of death in Australia and the number one cause of death globally. Scientists have been exploring the risk factors for cardiovascular disease through trials and studies and so far 80 per cent of cardiovascular risk is attributed to well-known risk factors such as age, sex, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes. But it’s not clear what risk factors are responsible for the remaining 20 per cent.
Not being married was also linked to a greater risk of dying from both coronary heart disease (42 per cent) and stroke (55 per cent).
It has been reported previously that gender can be a main determinant of adverse clinical outcomes among men and women with premature acute coronary disease. But the scientific community is not very clear about the role of gender relations — how we interact with or are treated by people — on the risk for developing CVD.
In this new study, scientists present a systematic review and meta-analysis on the role of marital status as a risk fact for CVD. After a detailed and extensive search, the researchers drew out 34 studies from a total of 225. All of the studies had been published between 1963 and 2015 and involved more than 2 million people aged between 42 and 77 from Europe, Scandinavia, North America, the Middle East and Asia.
The analysis of the data revealed that people who weren’t married (never married, divorced, widowed) were at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease (42 per cent) and coronary artery heart disease (16 per cent) — compared with people who were married. Not being married was also linked to a greater risk of dying from both coronary heart disease (42 per cent) and stroke (55 per cent).
Further in-depth analysis of the data showed that divorce was related to a 35 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease for both men and women, while widowers of both sexes were 16 per cent more likely to have a stroke. But there was no difference in the risk of death following a stroke between the married and the unmarried. However, this was not the case after a heart attack, where the risk was significantly higher (42 per cent) among those who had never married.
However, the researchers caution that the methods used in these studies and adjustments made for potential risk factors varied considerably across all the studies. This may have affected the results of their analysis. Also, there was no information on same-sex partnerships, the quality of marriage and the potential role of living with someone, compared to being married.
This is the largest study to date which also includes the age and ethnicity of the participants, thus adding more information to research on CVD risk factors. The researchers believe there are various possible reasons as to why marriage may be protective. These include early recognition and response to health problems, better adherence to medication, better financial security, improved wellbeing and enhanced friendship networks. The findings suggest the marital status should be included in assessing risk factors for cardiovascular disease as it may play a key role.
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