Feb. 24, 2010 (San Antonio) -- Get married! Be happy! Single and unhappily married men are at increased risk of dying from stroke, suggests a study of more than 10,000 men.
After taking into account other stroke risk factors, men who were single in the 1960s were 64% more likely to suffer a fatal stroke over the next three decades than their married counterparts, the study shows.
The risk of fatal stroke was also 64% higher in men who reported dissatisfaction with their marriages than in men who rated their marriages as successful, says Uri Goldbourt, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Tel Aviv University in Israel.
That figure is comparable to the risk of fatal stroke faced by men with diabetes, Goldbourt tells WebMD.
He presented the study at the American Stroke Association's (ASA) International Stroke Conference 2010.
Spousal Support Explains Marriage-Stroke Link
The findings are consistent with a wealth of information suggesting that the support of a spouse can improve one's health, says Daniel Lackland, DrPH, professor of epidemiology and neuroscience at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
"People with partners are more likely to go to the doctor and take their medication. They're more likely to eat healthy meals," he tells WebMD.
Also, a spouse can recognize unusual symptoms quickly, leading to prompt treatment, which lowers the odds that a stroke will be fatal, Lackland says.
The findings are bolstered by the fact that men who were satisfied with their marriages were less likely to die from stroke than unhappily married men, he adds.
While women weren't studied, Lackland suspects the findings apply to them, too. "Spousal support works both ways," he says.
Marital Status Affects Stroke Risk
The study involved 10,059 men who participated in the Israeli Ischemic Heart Disease Study in 1963. Using the national death registry and other records, researchers tracked the fate of the men through 1997.
A total of 8.4% of men who were single in 1963 -- whether never married, divorced, or widowed -- died of stroke in the following 34 years. That compares with 7.1% of the married men.
The statistical analysis took into account socioeconomic status and major stroke risk factors such as obesity, blood pressure, and smoking. It also took into account whether the men had diabetes and heart disease when they entered the study, Goldbourt says.
The research has limitations, including a lack of data on whether the men's marital status changed and their medical treatment over the years, he says. "It generates some interesting hypotheses about marriage, stress, and [brain] disease" worthy of further study.
Goldbourt and colleagues are already exploring the link in other analyses, using data collected on the same men. In one study, as yet unpublished, they found that the younger a man was when a parent died, the greater his risk of developing dementia over the next three decades.