Study reveals correlation between unhappy marital interactions and cardiovascular disease risk

June 25, 2014
Credit: Jeff Belmonte / Wikipedia

The affairs of the heart may actually affect the affairs of the heart in ways previously not understood.

"Growing evidence suggests that the quality and patterns of one's may be linked with a variety of health outcomes, including ," says Thomas Kamarck, professor of psychology and Biological and Health Program Chair in the University of Pittsburgh Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. He is an author of a new study that correlates unhappy marital interaction with thicker carotid arteries and a higher risk of .

"The contribution of this study is in showing that these sorts of links may be observed even during the earliest stages of plaque development [in the ]," Kamarck continues, "and that these observations may be rooted not just in the way that we evaluate our relationships in general but in the quality of specific social interactions with our partners as they unfold during our daily lives."

Nataria Joseph, who recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship under Kamarck, is the lead author of the paper, published this month in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Given the size of the effect in the study and the relationship between carotid artery plaque and disease, Joseph's findings, made at Pitt, indicate that those with marital interactions light on the positive may have an 8.5 percent greater risk of suffering heart attack or stroke than those with a surfeit of good feelings.

Joseph, who is now at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, says, "These findings may have wider implications. It's another bit of support for the thought that marital or serious romantic relationships play a significant role in overall health. Biological, psychological, and social processes all interact to determine physical health."

The study included 281 healthy, employed, middle-aged adults who were married or living with a partner in a marital-like relationship. Their interactions were monitored hourly over the course of four days, with the partners rating their interactions as positive or negative.

Carotid artery thickness was also measured. Those partners reporting more negative interactions were found to have thicker carotids. Joseph says that these associations could not be accounted for by other behavioral or biological risk factors and were also independent of marital interaction frequency, nonmarital , or personality factors. The findings were consistent across age, sex, race, and education level.

There are limitations to the study, Joseph says, because it is a cross-sectional study with all the data collected at one point in time. Causality, therefore, has not been proven, though a strong correlation has been established.

"What it does show," she says, "is that should look at relationships as a point of assessment. They are likely to promote health or place health at risk."

Explore further: Negative social interactions increase hypertension risk in older adults

Related Stories

Heart disease risk linked with spouses' social support

February 6, 2014

Matters of the heart can influence actual heart health, according to new research. A study from researchers at the University of Utah shows that the ways in which your spouse is supportive—and how you support your spouse—can ...

MRI evaluation of carotid plaque could help define CV risk

May 5, 2014

(HealthDay)—Carotid artery plaque morphology and composition determined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be useful in predicting cardiovascular events, according to research published in the May issue of Radiology.

Recommended for you

Dogs ignore bad advice that humans follow

September 27, 2016

Dogs are less likely to follow bad advice than children, according to a new study conducted at the Canine Cognition Center at Yale. In contrast to children, dogs only copy a human's actions if they are absolutely necessary ...

The birth of politics in children—the case of dominance

September 26, 2016

As they grow up, do children become young Robin Hoods? Depending on their age, they do not allocate resources in the same way between dominant and subordinate individuals. Thus a tendency towards egalitarianism develops and ...

Oxytocin enhances spirituality, new study says

September 21, 2016

Oxytocin has been dubbed the "love hormone" for its role promoting social bonding, altruism and more. Now new research from Duke University suggests the hormone may also support spirituality.

Study reveals a biological link between stress and obesity

September 21, 2016

Metabolic and anxiety-related disorders both pose a significant healthcare burden, and are in the spotlight of contemporary research and therapeutic efforts. Although intuitively we assume that these two phenomena overlap, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.