A number of studies have shown that marital stress can increase mortality and morbidity (complications) in couples with pre-existing cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as those who have had surgery. It has also been shown that women ages 30 to 65 who are dealing with marital stress and have had a heart attack are 2.9-times more likely to have another heart attack than happier women.
Marital stress also affects chronic diseases. In another study, researchers found that high degrees of marital stress predicted the severity of illness and four-year survival rate in patients with congestive heart failure.
This all seems like common sense, but apparently married couples are ignoring the enormous impact such strife can have on their loved one’s health. When you make marriage a war zone, it is like slowly poisoning your spouse.
Studies looking into why chronic stress has such a severe impact on health found some things that most people would suspect, such as elevations in blood pressure and high, sustained levels of stress hormones (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and corticotropin).
But more recent research has begun honing in on the molecular changes that occur with stress. This better explains some of the things medical researchers have observed, such as accelerated rates of atherosclerosis, shrinkage (atrophy) of certain parts of the brain, and high rates of anxiety and depression.
It also explains why wounds heal much more slowly for hostile couples than happy couples. In a recent study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers found that married couples with high levels of hostility had higher blood levels of inflammatory cytokines (IL-1ß, TNF-alpha, and IL-6) and lower levels of these same inflammatory chemicals in their wounds than did happier couples.
This translated into poor wound healing. The wounds of hostile couples healed 60 percent slower than those of less-hostile couples. Stress is associated with many health problems, including osteoporosis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, frailty, and cognitive decline. A recent study found that stress, especially if intense and prolonged, dramatically increases the level of pro-inflammatory chemicals (cytokines) in the blood and brain. This also translates into high levels of free radicals and lipid peroxidation in the body as well as the brain.
People with major depression experience shrinkage of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory, learning, and behavior. This phenomenon remained a mystery until recently when researchers demonstrated that the hippocampus of depressed people was inflamed. As a result, there were high levels of free radicals and lipid peroxidation. These people also had significant evidence of excitotoxicity (immunoexcitotoxicity) in their brain, which was doing most of the damage.
It has also been shown that couples with strong religious beliefs are much happier and resolve disagreements with less hostility than those who have little shared spirituality. This explains why religious couples are generally healthier and experience fewer serious health issues.
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