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11 October 2007
Marital Strife Brings On Heart Attacks
by George Atkinson

Arguments and conflicts in a relationship can lead to serious cardiovascular complications, according to a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"An extensive body of research shows that social relations are associated with better health and reduced risks of cardiovascular disease," the study noted. "However, contradictory findings on the health benefits of structural support and the limited protective effect of marital status against cardiovascular disease among women have stimulated further scientific inquiry into the quality of social relationships."

Researcher Roberto De Vogli, from the University College London, studied more than 9,000 subjects who completed a questionnaire about negative aspects of their close relationships. Although the questionnaire assessed up to four close relationships, the researchers focused specifically on the primary close relationship. In addition, participants answered questions about how much emotional and practical support they received from that person on a regular basis.

Of the individuals who did not have coronary heart disease at the beginning of the study, 589 later reported a coronary heart disease event. After adjusting for other factors that influence heart disease risk, those who experienced a high level of negativity in their close relationships were 1.34 times more likely to experience a coronary heart disease event than those with a low level of negative close relationships.

The researchers believe that emotions may influence the association between negative relationships and heart disease. "When one considers emotional factors and their biological translation into the body, research shows that negative marital interactions are associated with depression, often in combination with reduced self-esteem and/or higher levels of anger," say the researchers. "These emotional reactions have been found to influence coronary heart disease through the cumulative 'wear and tear' on organs and tissues."

The association with heart disease did not change based on sex or social position. In addition, heart disease risk was not associated with the level of emotional or practical support received. "It is possible that negative aspects of close relationships are more important for the health of individuals because of the power of negative close relationships to activate stronger emotions (worrying and anxiety) and the consequent physiological effects," the authors write. "In contrast, other more positive forms of support may not affect the physiology of individuals in a measurable or clinically relevant way."

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