November 1, 2014
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Mental Health

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Study: Happy marriage linked to better health for women

Marriage may be for better or for worse, but a study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine shows that the less happy women are in their relationship, the more likely they are to be in worse health - specifically when it comes to developing a condition that raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Previous studies have linked marriage - regardless of how satisfying it is - to better health for men. But researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and San Diego State University found that happily married women face a lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome than their unhappily married counterparts. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of at least 3 of the following: obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL or "good" cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. It puts people at an increased risk for diabetes and heart disease.

Researchers followed more than 400 women for a period of 11.5 years and compared their level of marital satisfaction with their likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome.

At the start of the study, the participants, who ranged in age from 42 to 50, took a test measuring marital satisfaction based on such criteria as amount of time spent with their spouse, sexual satisfaction, and similarity of interests. They took the same test three years later. At the start of the study and again at the final follow-up visit, the women were also assessed for metabolic syndrome, based on having three or more of the following: high blood sugar levels, high triglyceride levels, low HDL or "good" cholesterol, high blood pressure, or a waist circumference greater than 88 cm.

And the results? Women who were dissatisfied with their marriage had three times the risk of developing metabolic syndrome compared with happily-married women. But this finding didn't hold for women who were only dissatisfied with their marriage for a short-term period - women who reported marital satisfaction following only one assessment had a risk of developing metabolic syndrome similar to that of the happily married women.

Women who were widowed, meanwhile, had nearly six times the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, while, after accounting for a variety of factors, there were no statistically significant differences between happily married women and single or divorced women.

"Our data showing that marital quality predicts subsequent metabolic syndrome suggest the clinical utility of assessing marital quality as an integral part of the patient's social history," write the researchers.

"Understanding the links between marital quality and metabolic risk factors may facilitate coordinated care at an early stage of cardiovascular risk and may ultimately inform primary prevention efforts."


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