Happy marital interactions lower heart disease risk

Happy marital interactions lower heart disease risk
Happy marital interactions lower heart disease risk

A new study associates unhappy marital interaction with thicker carotid arteries and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

According to Dr. Thomas Kamarck, PhD, professor of psychology and Biological and Health Program Chair in the University of Pittsburgh Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and lead author of this new study that correlates unhappy marital interaction with thicker carotid arteries and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. “Growing evidence suggests that the quality and patterns of one’s social relationships may be linked with a variety of health outcomes, including heart disease”.

Dr. Nataria Joseph, PhD, who recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship under Kamarck, is the lead author along with colleagues examined the association between marital interaction quality during daily life and subclinical cardiovascular disease

This new study included 281healthy, employed middle-aged adults who were married or living with a partner in a marital-like relationship, average age 42 and 52% male. Their interactions were monitored hourly over the course of four days, and participants rating their current or recent partner interactions on positive and negative characteristics (e.g., agreeableness and conflict). Carotid artery intima-medial thickness (IMT) was evaluated by using ultrasound imaging.

The results showed that participants who reported negative material interaction with their spouse or partner had thicker carotid arteries. If plaque builds up in the body it is called atherosclerosis. Over time the plaque hardens and narrows the arteries. This may limit the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body.

If plaque builds up in the coronary (heart) arteries, a heart attack can occur. If plaque builds up in the carotid arteries, a stroke can occur.

The researchers calculated that those with negative interactions had an 8.5% higher risk of developing coronary heart disease compared to those who reported positive interactions with their spouse of partner.

The research team notes that these findings were consistent cross all age groups, races, genders and education levels. The results also remained the same after taking into account other factors that may influence cardiovascular disease and were also independent of marital interaction frequency, non-marital social interaction, or personality factors.

In their conclusion the team writes “Marital quality as measured during real-time interactions between partners was associated with subclinical CVD in healthy middle-aged adults. This study supports the use of real-time social interaction assessment for characterizing links between social relationships and cardiovascular health.”

According to Dr. Kamarck, “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], 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.”

“These findings may have wider implications. 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,” said Dr. Joseph.

Dr. Joseph noted there are limitations to this study because it is a cross-sectional study with all the data collected at one point in time. Causality, therefore, has not been proven, though a strong correlation has been established.

“What it does show,” she says, “is that health care providers should look at relationships as a point of assessment. They are likely to promote health or place health at risk.”

A study of more than 3.5 American men and women had found that married people had a significant lower risk of having any type of cardiovascular disease compared to those who were single, divorced or widowed, regardless of age, sex and cardiovascular disease risk factors.


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