Unhappy Marriage Raises Women's Heart Risk

Lowest Heart Risk Seen in Happily Married Women, but Similar Risk Seen in Singles

From the WebMD Archives

May 13, 2005 -- For married women, a happy heart is a healthy heart.

A number of studies have shown that marriage is good for men's health. Oddly, that doesn't seem to be true for women unless they are in happy marriages, more recent research suggests.

Why? Women in satisfying relationships are less likely to have a dangerous cluster of heart risk factors called the metabolic syndrome than women dissatisfied with their marriage, according to a new study by Wendy M. Troxel and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh and San Diego State University.

"Married women who reported consistent marital dissatisfaction were at higher risk of developing the metabolic syndrome than those who reported consistent marital satisfaction," Troxel and colleagues write in the May 9 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Widowhood, Marital Dissatisfaction Hard on Women's Health

Troxel and colleagues analyzed data from more than 400 healthy women who entered the study at ages 42 to 50, with an average age of 47. Nearly all the women were non-Hispanic whites.

Researchers analyzed the women again 11.5 years later. After controlling for other factors that affect metabolic syndrome, they found:

  • Marital dissatisfaction tripled a woman's odds of having the metabolic syndrome.
  • Widowed women were 5.7 times more likely to have the metabolic syndrome than married women who were satisfied with their relationship.
  • Divorced and single women were twice as likely to have the metabolic syndrome than satisfied married women -- but the results were not statistically significant.

"Interestingly, the comparisons between maritally satisfied women and single women were not statistically significant, perhaps because of the diversity of experiences of single women," Troxel and colleagues suggest.

Also interesting is the finding that women who were dissatisfied with their marriage at one time but not at others did not have higher heart risk. This suggests that only long-term dissatisfaction hurts women's health.