More evidence that marriage may benefit overall health emerges from findings that in the first year after having blocked blood vessels leading to the heart cleared, married patients fared much better than their unmarried counterparts.
Even after researchers adjusted for other cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, family history and high cholesterol, unmarried patients were more than twice as likely to die and to experience major cardiovascular events like heart attacks, in the year following the procedure, known as angioplasty.
Heart patients need a lot of support, and their care does not end in the hospital, the study's senior author, Dr. Ron Waksman of the MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC, said. "The implication is if you do not have someone to take care of you, you should be flagged for special care."
Previous research has found an apparent health benefit from marriage, but it is poorly understood and the results are not always consistent. For instance, bad marriages have been linked to heightened stress hormones and inflammation, both of which raise risks for heart disease and other illnesses.
But enough evidence suggests a positive marriage effect that Waksman's team set out to try to measure it in patients getting angioplasty to clear blocked coronary arteries - either to stave off a heart attack or as a result of already having had one.
The researchers analyzed the records of 11,216 patients gathered over 18 years through telephone contact or office visits. The patients' average age was 64, and 55 percent were married while 45 percent were unmarried.
Although high cholesterol and family history of heart disease were both more common among married individuals, it was the singles who were more likely to have major heart problems - including death, a heart attack or need for another angioplasty - in the year following their procedure.
The trend started right after patients underwent angioplasty, with 1.1 percent of unmarried patients dying in the hospital, compared to 0.4 percent of married patients, according to the results published in American Heart Journal.
Within 30 days of their procedures, 3.1 percent of unmarried patients had major cardiovascular events, compared to 1.2 percent of marrieds. At one year, 13.3 percent of singles versus 8.2 percent of marrieds had major cardiovascular events, and singles were also more than twice as likely to die of any cause.
The apparent marriage benefit was more pronounced for men compared to women. And the researchers caution that the singles were generally sicker before their procedures, for example they were more likely to have had a heart attack that prompted the angioplasty.