Marriage Linked to Lower Heart Risk Not So Much
for Seniors, Says Large Study
Marriage linked to lower risks for several
cardiovascular diseases in study of 3.5+ million adults; much lower for
those under 50
April 1, 2014 A very large national study has
found that married people are five percent less likely to have any
vascular disease than are single people. The surprise to the researchers
is the big gap between older people and young adults. Those 50 and
younger have 12 percent lower odds of vascular disease. But, seniors are
not as lucky. Those marrieds 61 and older are only 4 percent less likely to have
People who are married have lower rates of several
cardiovascular diseases compared with those who are single, divorced or
widowed, according to the research presented at the American College of
Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session. The relationship between
marriage and lower odds of vascular diseases is especially pronounced
before age 50.
"These findings certainly shouldn't drive people to
get married, but it's important to know that decisions regarding who one
is with, why, and why not may have important implications for vascular
health," said Carlos L. Alviar M.D., cardiology fellow, New York
University Langone Medical Center, and the lead investigator of the
Alviar said that while earlier, smaller studies
reported similar findings, the size of this study, as well as the
ability to consider four different vascular diseases peripheral artery
disease, cerebrovascular disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm and coronary
artery disease and to discriminate between various types of marital
status makes this research different from anything that's previously
"We are able to take a better look at a spectrum of
relationships," Alviar said.
Researchers prospectively analyzed records from a
database of more than 3.5 million people nationwide who were evaluated
for cardiovascular diseases.
Patients' demographic information and
cardiovascular risk factors were obtained, and researchers estimated the
odds of disease by marital status after analyzing the presence of
vascular disease in different blood vessel locations such as the
coronary arteries, leg arteries, carotids and the abdominal aorta.
Traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as
hypertension, diabetes, smoking and obesity were similar to the overall
U.S. population, according to authors. Participants' ages ranged from 21
to 102 years old, with the average age of 64, and 63 percent were
female. Overall, 69.1 percent (2.4 million) were married, 13 percent
(477,577) were widowed, 8.3 percent (292,670) were single; 9 percent
(319,321) were divorced.
After adjusting for age, sex, race and other
cardiovascular risk factors, researchers found marital status was
independently associated with cardiovascular disease. These findings
were consistent for both men and women across the four conditions.
In particular, married people were 5 percent less
likely to have any vascular disease compared with singles. They also had
8 percent, 9 percent and 19 percent lower odds of abdominal aortic
aneurysm, cerebrovascular disease and peripheral arterial disease,
The odds of coronary disease were lower in married
subjects compared with those who were widowed and divorced, but this was
not statistically significant when compared to single subjects, which
were used as the reference group for comparison.
On the other hand, being divorced or widowed was
associated with a greater likelihood of vascular disease compared with
being single or married. After multivariable adjustment, widowers had 3
percent higher odds of any vascular disease and 7 percent higher odds of
coronary artery disease. Divorce was linked with a higher likelihood of
any vascular disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm, coronary artery disease
and cerebrovascular disease.
"The association between marriage and a lower
likelihood of vascular disease is stronger among younger subjects, which
we didn't anticipate," Alviar said.
For people aged 50 and younger, marriage is
associated with 12 percent lower odds of any vascular disease. This
number drops to 7 percent for people ages 51 to 60 and only 4 percent
for those 61 and older.
"Of course, it's true that not all marriages are
created equal, but we would expect the size of this study population to
account for variations in good and bad marriages," Alviar said.
The database researchers used consists primarily of
people who participated in the self-referred Life Line Screening program
at more than 20,000 screening sites covering all 50 states and broad
geographical and socioeconomic representation between 2003 and 2008.
Potential limitations of the study are that the sample was drawn from
people who sought and paid $100 for a vascular screening service and
therefore may not be representative of the population. Additionally, the
study included a relatively small proportion of racial/ethnic
Future research is needed to better understand what
aspects of marriage might be associated with improved vascular health;
for example, better access to health insurance and health care,
socioeconomic status and the potential benefits of having companionship.
Alviar said a long-term follow-up study would help identify dynamic
changes in disease patterns as subjects move from one status to another
such as moving from being married to divorced or widowed; or single to
married, especially at later stages in life, and allow researchers to
see if and how soon after these changes occur vascular disease appears.
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