It turns out that affairs of the heart can affect how the heart fares. That's the upshot of new research linking stressful relationships — such as a bad marriage — to heart disease.
In a study published this month in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, University of Pittsburgh researchers found individuals in unhappy marriages have significantly thicker carotid arteries and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, Medical Xpress reports.
"The contribution of this study is in showing that these sorts of links may be observed even during the earliest stages of plaque development [in the carotid artery]," said researcher Thomas Kamarck, a professor of psychology and health at Pitt, "and that these observations may be rooted not just in the way that we evaluate our relationships in general but in the quality of specific social interactions with our partners as they unfold during our daily lives."
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For the study, researchers tracked 281 healthy, employed, middle-aged adults who were married or living with a partner in a marital-like relationship. Their interactions were monitored hourly over the course of four days, with the partners rating their interactions as positive or negative.
Carotid artery thickness was also measured. The results showed those partners reporting more negative interactions were found to have thicker arteries that could not be accounted for by other behavioral or biological risk factors. They were estimated to have an 8.5 percent greater risk of suffering heart attack or stroke than those in happier relationships, the researchers said.
"These findings may have wider implications," said Nataria Joseph, who led the study as a postdoctoral fellow working with Kamarck. "It's another bit of support for the thought that marital or serious romantic relationships play a significant role in overall health. Biological, psychological, and social processes all interact to determine physical health."
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