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Heart Disease Health Center

Bad Marriage, Bad Heart?

Negative Relationships Boost Heart Disease Risk by 34%, Study Shows
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A Closer Look continued...

During the follow-up period of about 12 years, heart disease was reported by 589 men and women of the 8,499 respondents who finished the questionnaires. None of the 8,499 respondents had any history of heart disease at the start of the study.

Those who had high negativity in their marriage or close friendship -- such as saying that talking to the partner or friend about problems made things seem worse -- were 34% more likely to have a heart problem compared with those with more positive interactions and low level of negativity. The increased risk dropped to 25% after taking into account other variables that could contribute to heart disease such as depression.

De Vogli didn't find an association between the level of practical support or emotional support and heart disease risk.

What's behind the bad marriage -- bad heart link? People may mentally "replay" the negative interactions, De Vogli and other researchers suspect. "It can activate emotional responses, including depression or hostility," he says, in turn boosting heart disease risk. De Vogli found the association held for both men and women and for those in higher and lower social positions. More likely to have negative relationships, he did find, were those in lower-grade jobs. Negative close relationships were less likely in people who were never married.

Second Opinion

"It's an intriguing finding," says Robert Allan, PHD, a clinical assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. He reviewed the study for WebMD.

"In this study, they controlled for many variables [that could contribute to heart problems], including age, sex, marital status, high blood pressure, and diabetes," says Allan, an expert in the field of anger management with a specialty in coronary risk reduction.

Overall, he says, the link De Vogli's team found between negative relationships and heart disease is not "huge." Still, "this is one study that adds to a significant database suggesting that negative effect is bad for both quality of life and for the heart."

It's a wake-up call to work on improving relationships as one way to improve cardiac health, says Allan.

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