Put a ring on it! Lifelong bachelors face much worse heart failure outcomes

WASHINGTON — Marriage may be increasingly unpopular among younger couples, but new research suggests taking the plunge, so to speak, and getting married can do a world of good for a man’s heart. If any groom-to-be out there is starting to get cold feet, all he has to do is keep in mind these latest findings. Scientists report men who never marry, remaining lifelong bachelors, are more than twice as likely to die within about five years after receiving a heart failure diagnosis in comparison to both women and other men who tie the knot.

These findings represent the latest evidence suggesting a person’s gender and marital status can indeed influence their risk of developing heart disease. Heart failure, defined as when the heart muscle becomes too weak or stiff to pump blood effectively to the body, is a top cause of heart illness and death. Estimates show it currently impacts over six million Americans.

“There is a relationship between a person’s relationship status and their clinical prognosis [with heart failure], and it’s important to figure out why that is,” says Katarina Leyba, MD, a resident physician at the University of Colorado and the study’s lead author, in a media release. “As our population is getting older and living longer, it’s imperative to determine how to best support the population through the aging process, and that might not be as easy as taking a pill. We need to take a personalized and holistic approach to supporting patients, especially with a chronic disease process like heart failure.”

Divorce is better for the heart than staying single?

Researchers used data provided by the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, a prospective study of 6,800 American adults between 45 and 84 years-old. By year 10 of the study, 94 participants received a diagnosis for heart failure. Among that group, study authors compared survival rates from the time of heart failure diagnosis according to both gender and marital status over an average follow-up period of 4.7 years. In order to separate the role of marital status from other risk factors, researchers adjusted for age to account for the naturally elevated risk of death among older individuals. They also accounted for mood status, which can influence depression and other mood disorders when it comes to heart failure survival.

The results show that men who had never been married are more than twice as likely to die within approximately five years of diagnosis compared to women of any marital status. Meanwhile, those same unmarried men are roughly 2.2 times more likely to die than married men. Interestingly, men who are widowed, divorced, or separated do not have an increased risk of death compared with married men. For women, on the other hand, the team did not identify marital status as a significant predictor of death.

man and woman holding hands
Photo by Drew Coffman from Unsplash

Why are single men dying of heart failure?

All in all, study authors say the nuanced relationship between a man’s marital status and heart failure survival odds warrants much more research. Potential drivers may include social interaction or isolation, which can play an important role in mood and overall health, or access to caregiver support for help with home health monitoring, medication adherence, and transportation to medical appointments. Other possible influential elements include various differences in health behaviors such as diet, exercise and alcohol intake.

Researchers explain it is likely that different factors play a role for different people. Still, being aware of an individual’s situation at home can help guide more personalized strategies for health management.

“As clinicians, we need to think about our patients not just in terms of their medical risk factors, but also the context of their life,” Dr. Leyba adds.

There is no known cure for heart failure. However, medications, the right diet, and regular exercise can help patients live longer and reduce common symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling. Since it is a chronic condition, heart failure should be closely monitored and actively managed for the remainder of a patient’s life. Specifically, this means frequent visits to doctors and a significant amount of self-monitoring at home. Some examples are daily weight checks, as rapid weight gain can be a sign of fluid buildup, and active monitoring of swelling, worsening of symptoms (shortness of breath, fatigue), and medication side-effects.

To better inform and fully optimize heart failure treatment plans for each individual patient, study authors believe clinicians should speak with patients about their home life, and always consider how their relationship status may potentially affect their heart failure journey.

The team presented their findings at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together With the World Congress of Cardiology.

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About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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