Study: Bad Marriage Can be Bad for the Heart

Stress in a marriage can contribute to health problems, a new study found, while happy marriages can literally be good for the heart.

Researchers studied over 9,000 British civil servants, most of whom were married, and found that those with the worst close relationships were 34 percent more likely to have heart attacks or other heart trouble than those in good relationships. Relationships include partners, close relatives and friends.

The latest Archives of Internal Medicine study focused more on the quality of marriage along with other important relationships.

Participants in the study were asked in the 1980s about their relationships in questionnaires. Questions included to what extent the other person gives you worries, problems and stress and also whether talking with that person made them feel worse. Researchers at University College London followed the participants for 12 years.

The study started off with 8,499 individuals who did not have heart problems and by the end of the study, 589 reported a heart condition. Those who reported arguments, criticism and other types of conflicts were more likely to have registered heart problems.

"What we add here is that, 'OK, being married is in general good, but be careful about the kind of person you have married.' The quality of the relationship matters," said lead author Roberto De Vogli, according to The Associated Press.

Participants who had the highest negative scores on the questionnaire had the highest risks of heart problems, including obesity, high blood pressure and smoking.

Cathy Ross, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, stressed the significance of emotional and psychological support. A lack thereof may increase the risk of heart disease.

Yet James Coyne, a University of Pennsylvania psychology professor, said it's not clear what to recommend, after examining results of the study.

Coyne doesn't see a basis for recommending those with marriage problems to get therapy only to avoid a heart attack. But he also doesn't think ending a bad marriage is the answer given evidence that being unmarried also could be a risk, according to AP.

Previous research has suggested that those in a relationship enjoy better health than those who are single.