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Apr 17, 2015

Heart Attack Risk Especially High Among Divorced Women

Even women who remarried had 35% greater heart attack risk than those who were continuously married.

Being divorced may have a negative impact on heart health, according to a study linking divorce to increased heart attack risk, especially in women.

Published in the medical journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, this study is among the first to analyze lifetime exposure to divorce and cardiovascular risk. It’s well known that divorce is a major life stressor that can have negative consequences on both mental and physical health. However, few studies have tracked changes in marital status over time to assess its impact on heart health.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study, which followed nearly 16,000 U.S. middle-aged adults from 1992 to 2010. Upon enrolling into the study, 14% of men and 19% of women had already been through a divorce. By the end of the study period, more than one-third of adults had at least one divorce, and 8% of participants had experienced a heart attack.

After analysis, researchers found that heart attack risk was consistently higher in those who were divorced compared to those who remained married throughout the study. And, the more divorces adults had, the greater their risk of heart attack.

Divorce had the strongest impact on heart attack risk in women. Women with one divorce had 24% higher heart attack risk, and women with two or more divorces had 77% higher risk of heart attack than those with no divorces. Even women who remarried had 35% greater heart attack risk than those who were continuously married throughout the study. In men, only those with two or more divorces had increased heart attack risk. Once remarried, men’s heart attack risk was similar to that of married men.

Findings highlight the serious impact that divorce can have on heart health. It’s likely that the emotional hardship and economic stress associated with divorce puts a major strain on health. It’s also possible that divorced adults have unhealthier habits than married individuals, although this study adjusted for factors like diet and exercise.

Findings also confirm evidence that marital loss may have greater impact on the health of women than men. It’s important that all, but women especially, take steps to promote good health, particularly after experiencing stressful life events.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How does heart attack risk differ in men and women?
  • Although risk factors for heart attack are similar among men and women, women are more likely to have more serious heart attacks, resulting in death. Women also tend to experience atypical symptoms of heart attack, such as abdominal pain, heartburn, clammy skin, dizziness and fatigue. It is important to call 9-1-1 at the first sign of either typical or atypical heart attack symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.
  • How does relationship status reduce the risk of a heart attack?
  • Being married—or even having a roommate—improves the chances of getting medical help in the event of an emergency rather than living alone. More importantly, however, experts believe that having a partner could explain the association between marital status and cardiovascular risk. Spouses often advocate for each other's health and serve as good support systems for making healthier choices.

Featured Video

Women often experience heart attack symptoms differently than men. It's important for a woman to be able to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack and react quickly by calling 911.

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