Women's Heart Advisor January 2012 Issue

Your Mate May Be Good Medicine

Happily married women live longer after bypass surgery, study says.

If you are a happily married woman, you might like to give your husband several extra kisses this Valentine’s Day if you have had coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG). Thanks to your good relationship, you are much more likely to be alive 15 years after your surgery than an unmarried woman.

This finding comes from a study published online August 22, 2011, in Health Psychology, in which researchers followed 225 men and women who had undergone CABG between 1987 and 1990. One year after surgery, the participants were asked to rate their satisfaction with their spouse. After making statistical adjustments for age, sex, education, depression, tobacco use and other factors that influence survival in people with coronary artery disease, the  researchers discovered that happily married women were three times more likely than unmarried women or women in unsatisfactory relationships to survive long term. In fact, 83 percent of happily married women were still alive 15 years after CABG, compared with only 28 percent of unhappily married women and 27 percent of unmarried women.

Married men fared well, too, with 83 percent of happy husbands still alive a decade-and-a-half after heart surgery. But the quality of their marriage was less important to their survival, with 60 percent of less-than-happily-married men surviving 15 years, as compared with 36 percent of unmarried men.

The study authors concluded that for women, marital satisfaction may be as important as traditional cardiac risk factors for long-term survival following CABG. According to principal author Kathleen King, PhD, loving spouses likely encourage healthy behaviors that lower risk and increase long-term survival, such as quitting smoking and losing weight. She also suggested that happily married patients may be more motivated to care for themselves in order to continue enjoying the benefits of their good relationship.