Divorce Has Lasting Toll on Health
Even With Remarriage, Disease Risk Elevated
“People who did not remarry had significantly worse health than people who did, so remarriage helps,” Waite says. “But it does not erase the effects of being widowed or divorced.”
Waite conducted the study along with co-author Mary Elizabeth Hughes, PhD, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Waite says the findings have implications for physicians, as well as family and friends of people experiencing divorce or the death of a spouse.
She says doctors should be especially vigilant about treating risk factors for chronic diseases like high blood pressure and high cholesterol following a divorce or spouse’s death. And having a strong social support network can also impact risk.
“This is a time when support is extremely important,” she says. “Anything that helps people deal with stress can help.”
Stress From Divorce
University of Texas at Austin researcher Mark Hayward, PhD, has studied the impact of divorce on heart disease.
In one study, he showed that divorced, middle-aged women -- even when they remarried -- were more likely to develop heart disease than non-divorced, married women.
Hayward tells WebMD that long-term stress before, during, and after a divorce may accelerate the biologic processes that lead to cardiovascular disease and possibly other chronic diseases.
“Even when the stress goes away, this acceleration may continue as if the body has been reprogrammed,” he says.
But this doesn’t mean that divorce is always worse for your health than staying married, he says.
Hayward directs the university’s Population Research Center.
“This study suggests that, on average, that is the case, but clearly it is not true for everyone,” he says. “For people in highly stressful marriages, divorce may be beneficial for their health.”