Love matters: Unmarried heart patients have higher risk of death, study finds

ATLANTA — Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Science may help shed some light on the answer, at least when it comes to heart health: A new study finds that people with heart disease have a higher risk of death if they’re not married.

Scientists have long known that divorced individuals face an increased risk of death in general, but this is among the first study to evaluate the connection between marital status and heart disease-related conditions and deaths in divorced, separated, widowed, or never married patients.

Stethoscope and heart
Individuals being treated for heart disease are at a higher risk for death if they’re unmarried, a new study finds.

“I was somewhat surprised by the magnitude of the influence of being married has (on heart patients),” says Dr. Arshed Quyyumi, lead researcher and professor of medicine at Emory University, in an American Heart Association news release. “Social support provided by marriage, and perhaps many other benefits of companionship, are important for people with heart disease.”

The study followed 6,051 patients (average 63-years-old) for nearly four years who were undergoing cardiac catheterization for CAD. Patients with other prominent issues like severe heart valve damage, anemia, congenital heart disease, cancer or active inflammatory disease were excluded from the study.

The researchers discovered alarming statistics based off of their findings in unmarried patients through phone interviews and medical chart abstractions.

Specifically, being unmarried was associated with 24 percent higher death from any cause; 45 percent risk of death from cardiovascular disease; and 52 percent higher risk of cardiovascular death/heart attack. In terms of which patients and how much higher the risk of cardiovascular death/heart attack when unmarried, the authors determined that those who were never married had a 40 percent higher risk; divorced or separated patients had a 41 percent higher risk; and widowed patients had a 71 percent higher risk.

They observed that patients who were unmarried were more likely to be female and black, and suffer from hypertension, heart failure, or high cholesterol.

During the follow-up, 1,085 deaths were reported, including 688 cardiovascular deaths and 272 heart attacks.

Researchers recommend that doctors put more stock in a patient’s marital status upon treatment. They also mention that the psychological conditions that are often linked with being unmarried calls for more research in aggressive follow-up and therapy in future studies.

The study’s findings were published in December in the Journal of the American Heart Association.