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Marriage Has Medical Powers For Healing Hearts

March 29, 2012

People who are married are three times more likely than their single counterparts to survive the critical first three months following heart surgery, claims a new study from the United States.

According to the scientists behind the research, marriage has a "protective effect" and boosts survival regardless of patient's gender. And while the most striking difference in the results happened during the first three months following the coronary artery bypass surgery, the study revealed that the strong protective effect of marriage lasts for up to 5 years after undergoing the procedure.

The idea that married people live longer than singles has been documented as far back as the mid-19th century in France, but Ellen Idler, a sociologist at Emory University and a principal investigator of the study, and her colleagues chose to concentrate on a major health crisis. During the research, the scientists interviewed more than 500 married and single patients before they underwent emergency or elective coronary bypass surgery. After the interviews the patients' responses were analyzed along with survival data from the Centers for Disease Control's National Death Index.

Sadly for single individuals, the results revealed that bypass heart surgery survival rates for them were rather bleak when compared with the rates for those patients who were married. Indeed, the benefit of being married lasted longer than the first 3-month recovery period and continued for up to 5 years after surgical procedure. It was found that among patients who survived the initial three months following the surgery, single people were about 71 per cent more likely to pass away during the subsequent five years.

Although the scientists could not draw definite conclusions as to why married people had better survival chances, they said that interviews with patients were revealing. According to Idler, married patients had a more positive outlook going under the knife when compared to singletons, and when asked whether they would be able to manage the pain and discomfort, or their worries about the surgery, those who were married were more likely to give a positive response.

However, greater cheerfulness was not the only predictor of better after-surgery survival. The study also found that smoking rates were significantly different between single people and those in a matrimony unit. The history of smoking was associated with the lower 5-year survival rate among non-married individuals, the study found, and overall, married people reported smoking much less than their single counterparts. Therefore, it could be assumed that being married could be affecting people's smoking habits, which in turn will affect their long-term health.

Dr. Christine Stephens, an associate professor of Health Psychology at Massey University, said in a statement that the decrease in marriage over the past twenty years should not affect the rates of successful recovery after heart surgeries. As the marriage statistics drop, she said, there still will be the same number of people who live with partners, and therefore, it is not just about being married to someone, but about having someone who you live with and who cares for you.

The study was published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. It was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Tags: Health, Marriage