They say you can’t die of a broken heart, but a new study suggests that you can boost your risk of suffering a heart attack by getting a divorce. Women who have been divorced once and men who have gone through two or more divorces are at an increased risk of heart attack compared to married couples who stay together. The study was published online April 14th in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
“The negative health consequences of divorce have been known for some time,” said lead study author Matthew E. Dupre of Duke Clinical Research Institute in North Carolina.
The research looked at over 15,000 adults aged 45-80 who had been married at least once at the start of the 18-year study. When the study began in 1992, 14% of male participants and 19% of female participants had already been divorced at least once.
Over the course of the study period, 1211 participants experienced a heart attack. Taking into account age, socioeconomic status, and health factors, the study still found that those who were divorced were more likely to suffer a heart attack.
Women are considered to be at a greater risk after one divorce than their ex-husbands and, unfortunately, the study also found that remarriage only reverses the increased risk for men. Furthermore, women who divorced two or more times reached a level of heart attack risk similar to that posed by high blood pressure and diabetes.
“Earlier studies have suggested that marital loss has a greater impact on the health of women than men,” Dupre said. “The reasons for these differences are not entirely known; however, the prevailing view is that divorced women suffer greater economic losses and emotional distress than divorced men.”
Although the results of the study are bleak, there is something of a silver lining. The research provides a medical advancement in the form of knowledge: physicians now recognize divorce as a risk factor in predicting heart attacks. The solution is not that people should remain in unhappy marriages to reduce their risk of heart attack, but that doctors should provide extra screening for high-risk individuals.