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Supportive Mate a Good Match for Your Heart

Small study of couples found helpfulness seems associated with lower levels of calcium build-up in arteries


All participants completed questionnaires to get a handle on perceptions regarding both overall marriage quality and spousal behavior at those times when one or the other felt they needed support, advice or a favor.

The result: Roughly 30 percent described their spouse was solidly supportive, while 70 percent felt responses to their requests for support were unpredictably helpful or upsetting, depending.

As for the physical findings, CT scans revealed that coronary artery calcification levels rose the most when two partners both felt ambivalent about the other's support.

Calcium build-up levels fell somewhat when just one spouse felt that way, while the best (lowest) scores were seen among those where neither felt ambivalent about support.

What's more, the connection held up regardless of how satisfied a spouse said he or she was with their overall marriage.

The exact way in which the perceived lack of reliable support affects heart health remains unclear, the team noted. But they suggested that it might have a negative impact on stress levels, in turn harming cardiovascular health.

American Heart Association spokesperson Dr. Nieca Goldberg suggested the findings were in line with what she would have expected.

"It's not a surprise to me," she noted, "given the other literature that has already been published in this field. Other studies have looked at how levels of social support in people with existing heart disease affect survival rates. And they found that there is a direct relationship between the number of people a patient has in his or her support network and the length of survival following a heart attack."

"But I'm really glad we're starting to explore this area more and more," added Goldberg, medical director of the women's heart program at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City. "Because there's been lots of research looking at connections between emotions and heart health. And sometimes they're not so definitive. But now we have a study finding a link with a major marker for coronary heart disease, calcification, together with older studies that saw a link between improved survival among heart attack patients who have more social support. So clearly there's something here."

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