Risk of death higher for single heart failure patients than married ones

WÜRZBURG, Germany — Single people who suffer heart failure are more likely to die young than their married friends, according to a new study. Researchers say the social interactions which are an inescapable part of marriage may help married people recover from their attack.

Simply put, husbands and wives can help their loved one become healthier, encourage them and give them their medicine. In contrast, unmarried people lack confidence and immediate support when managing their heart problem.

Prior research showed those who are not wed are more vulnerable to heart failure.

For the study, researchers in Germany looked at 1,022 people who were hospitalized for severe heart problems between 2004 and 2007. Of the 1,008 patients who told the team about their marital status, 63 percent had a spouse while 37 percent were unmarried.

The unmarried group included 195 widows, 96 people who had never tied the knot, and 84 separated or divorced people. Their quality of life, self-efficacy and social limitations were measured using the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire, which is designed specifically for people with heart failure.

Social limitation refers to the extent to which the disease limits people’s ability to interact socially, pursue hobbies or visit family and friends. Self-efficacy describes patients’ perception of their ability to prevent heart failure getting worse and manage complications.

Depressed mood was also measured.

Married and unmarried people had the same quality of life and were equally as likely to suffer from depressed mood. However, the unmarried group scored worse on social limitations and self-efficacy compared with the married group.

During ten years of follow-up, 67 percent of the patients died.

Being unmarried placed people with heart disease at a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular complications as well as other ailments. Widowed patients were at the highest risk of death.

The researchers say heart failure support groups for unmarried people can go some way to filling the gap left by a loved one and educating them about how to manage their condition. They are now working on a mobile app which they hope will help people with heart failure to better manage their ailment on a day-to-day basis.

“Social support helps people managing long-term conditions. Spouses may assist with drug adherence, provide encouragement and help with developing healthier behaviors, all of which could affect longevity. In this study, unmarried patients exhibited fewer social interactions than married patients, and lacked confidence to manage their heart failure,” says study author Dr. Fabian Kerwagen of the Comprehensive Heart Failure Center at the University Hospital Würzburg in a statement.

“We are exploring whether these factors could also partially explain the link with survival. The connection between marriage and longevity indicates the importance of social support for patients with heart failure, a topic which has become even more relevant with social distancing during the pandemic,” Kerwagen continues. “Health professionals should consider asking patients about their marital status and wider social group and recommending heart failure support groups to fill potential gaps. Education is crucial but health providers also need to boost patients’ confidence in their self-care abilities. We are working on a mobile health application which we hope will assist heart failure patients in the day-to-day management of their condition.”

The findings were presented today (21/5/22) at the conference Heart Failure 2022, part of the European Congress of Cardiology which is being held in Madrid, Spain.

Report by South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright