The new research, presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session, also found that the relationship between marriage and lower odds of vascular diseases is especially pronounced before age 50.
“These findings certainly shouldn’t drive people to get married, but it’s important to know that decisions regarding who one is with, why, and why not may have important implications for vascular health,” said Carlos L. Alviar M.D., a cardiology fellow at New York University Langone Medical Center, and the lead investigator of the study.
For the study, researchers analyzed records from a database of more than 3.5 million people nationwide who were evaluated for cardiovascular diseases, including peripheral artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm, and coronary artery disease.
Patients’ demographic information and cardiovascular risk factors were collected, and researchers estimated the odds of disease by marital status after analyzing the presence of vascular disease in different blood vessel locations, such as the coronary arteries, leg arteries, carotids, and the abdominal aorta.
Traditional cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and obesity, were similar to the overall U.S. population, according to researchers. Participants’ ages ranged from 21 to 102 years old, with the average age of 64, and 63 percent were female.
Overall, 69.1 percent — 2.4 million — were married, 13 percent (477,577) were widowed, 8.3 percent (292,670) were single, and nine percent (319,321) were divorced.
After adjusting for age, sex, race, and other cardiovascular risk factors, researchers reported they found marital status was independently associated with cardiovascular disease. These findings were consistent for both men and women across the four conditions, they noted.
Married people were five percent less likely to have any vascular disease compared with singles. They also had eight percent, nine percent, and 19 percent lower odds of abdominal aortic aneurysm, cerebrovascular disease, and peripheral arterial disease, respectively.
The researchers also found that the odds of coronary disease were lower in married people compared with those who were widowed and divorced, but this was not statistically significant when compared to single people, who were used as the reference group for comparison.
The researchers did find that being divorced or widowed was associated with a greater likelihood of vascular disease compared with being single or married. Widowers had three percent higher odds of any vascular disease and seven percent higher odds of coronary artery disease.
Divorce was linked with a higher likelihood of any vascular disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm, coronary artery disease, and cerebrovascular disease, according to the study.
“The association between marriage and a lower likelihood of vascular disease is stronger among younger subjects, which we didn’t anticipate,” Alviar said.
“For people aged 50 and younger, marriage was associated with 12 percent lower odds of any vascular disease. This number drops to seven percent for people ages 51 to 60, and only four percent for those 61 and older,” he said.
“Of course, it’s true that not all marriages are created equal, but we would expect the size of this study population to account for variations in good and bad marriages,” Alviar said.
The database researchers used consisted primarily of people who participated in the self-referred Life Line Screening program at more than 20,000 screening sites across the nation between 2003 and 2008.
The researchers note that potential limitations of the study are that the sample was drawn from people who sought and paid $100 for a vascular screening service and so may not be representative of the population. Additionally, the study included a relatively small proportion of racial and ethnic minorities, the researchers reported.
According to the scientists, more research is needed to better understand what aspects of marriage might be associated with improved vascular health, for example, better access to health insurance and health care, socioeconomic status and the potential benefits of having companionship.
Alviar said a long-term follow-up study would help identify changes in disease patterns as people move from one status to another, such as moving from being married to divorced or widowed, or single to married, especially at later stages in life. This would also allow researchers to see if and how soon after these changes occur vascular disease appears, he noted.
Source: American College of Cardiology