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    Marriage Does Help the Heart, Study Finds

    Researchers compared cardiovascular disease rates in more than 3 million Americans

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    Although the researchers found a link between marriage and lower risk for heart disease, they didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

    "It's such a large population that you can't cast this study off," said Dr. J. Jeffrey Marshall, past president of the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions. Marshall reviewed the findings but wasn't involved in the study.

    Although other studies have looked at death rates from heart disease, this study is looking at the odds of getting cardiovascular disease, said Marshall, a cardiologist in Gainesville, Ga.

    Neither Marshall nor Alviar could explain the apparent protective factor of marriage, but both have some thoughts about the reasoning behind it. "Maybe married people look out for each other," Marshall said. "They may exercise together. Your spouse may help you watch your diet."

    Although the new study did not find gender differences, Marshall said, he finds that many of his male patients with heart problems are "dragged to the emergency room" by their wives.

    Alviar agreed that partners might look out for each other. "Those who have a spouse may be more likely to comply with doctors' appointments and medications," he said.

    The study findings suggest that doctors might need to be more clued in to the heart risk factors of unmarried patients, Alviar said.

    Marshall said he tells patients -- regardless of their marital status -- to follow five simple steps to lower their risk: "Don't smoke; eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet; sweat every day; achieve your ideal body weight; and stay on your medicines."

    Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, it should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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