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Health & Sex

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Marital Satisfaction Plays Role in Heart Bypass Survival

Study Suggests Happily Married Men and Women Live Longer After Heart Bypass Surgeries
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 22, 2011 -- People who are married and who undergo heart bypass surgery are more than twice as likely as their unmarried counterparts to be alive after 15 years, a new study indicates.

University of Rochester researchers tracked 225 people who had undergone bypass surgery between 1987 and 1990, asking them about their marital status at the time of surgery and to rate their marital satisfaction a year after their operations.

They found that marital satisfaction plays an important role in long-term survival after heart bypass surgery.

The effect of marital satisfaction was found to differ between men and women.

The Value of Good Relationships

Fifteen years after bypass surgery, 83% of wives deemed happily married were still alive, compared to 28% of women in unhappy marriages and 27% of unmarried women, the study shows.

Among men, 83% of happily married husbands were alive 15 years after bypass surgery, compared to 60% of men in less-than-satisfying marriages and 36% of unmarried men.

"There is something in a good relationship that helps people stay on track," Kathleen King, PhD, RN, FAAN and professor emeritus from the University of Rochester's School of Nursing, says in a news release.

Rochester psychology professor Harry Reis, PhD, says marital satisfaction is "every bit as important to survival after bypass surgery as more traditional risk factors like tobacco use, obesity and high blood pressure."

Reis says wives need to feel satisfied in their relationships to get a health benefit, even though "the payoff for marital bliss is even greater for women than for men."

He says that some research has indicated that marriage is not beneficial for women, but the new study, because it factored in satisfaction levels, perhaps gets at the truth more accurately.

"A good marriage gets under your skin whether you are male or female," Reis says.

Support From Spouses

Supportive spouses may be a major ticket, King says, because they are most likely to encourage health behaviors like exercise and to discourage bad ones, like smoking.

A nurturing marriage provides patients with sustained motivation to care for themselves and gives them a significant reason to "stick around so they can stay in the relationship that they like," she says.

Previous research has shown that people with lower hostility in their marriages have less of the type of inflammation that is linked to heart disease, the researchers say, and this may be another reason why people in the bypass study benefited from happy marriages.

The study is published online Aug. 22 in Health Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association.

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