Monday, May 20, 2002
Marital bliss can affect your heart literally
A story released today by Reuters Health reports that a group of Canadian investigators found that unhappily married people with mildly elevated blood pressure were more likely than those in connubial bliss to have an increase in the thickness of the heart chamber walls after 3 years.
Speaking to reporters on Friday at the 17th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society of Hypertension, lead author Dr. Brian Baker of the University of Toronto, Canada reported, "We assumed that (increase in heart chamber size) was because blood pressure was raised."
In order to measure how stress affects cardiovascular health, Baker and his colleagues measured blood pressure over a 24-hour period in 103 men and women at the start of the study and again 3 years later. At both times, participants also completed questionnaires about the quality of their jobs and marriages, and 72 people underwent an echocardiogram to examine changes in their left ventricles.
Baker suspected that the impact of marriage quality relates to the amount of time spent with a spouse. Over the 24-hour period, respondents in unhappy marriages had relatively higher blood pressure readings when the measurements were taken in the presence of a spouse, and lower readings when the spouse was absent.
However, those who reported being in happy marriages experienced the exact opposite trend, with blood pressure decreasing in the presence of their spouses.
"You must have quality and quantity in terms of the marital context to have an effect on blood pressure," added Baker.
However, while Baker noted that marriages remained stable during the study period, he and his team found that around one half of study participants had experienced job changes, and more than one-quarter had left their former job. Consequently, Baker said their results regarding the effect of job stress on blood pressure were "inconclusive," and the question should be taken up in subsequent studies.