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Happy Marriage Cuts Men's Risk for Stroke

Single men, unhappy husbands had higher incidence of dying in study

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Single or unhappily married men seem to run a greater risk of dying from a stroke than those with good marriages, a new Israeli study indicates.

The study, which tracked more than 10,000 civil servants and municipal workers from 1963 to 1997, found that 8.4 percent of the single men died of strokes, compared to 7.1 percent of the married men. When age and known stroke risk factors such as obesity, smoking and diabetes were included in the analysis, single men had a 64 percent higher risk of fatal stroke than married men, according to a report scheduled to be presented Wednesday at the American Stroke Association's annual stroke conference in San Antonio.

The study also asked men to evaluate the success of their marriages. The 3.6 percent of men who reported dissatisfaction with marriage also had a 64 percent higher risk of a fatal stroke, compared to those who considered their marriages to be very successful.

"Maybe summoning help in the case of suspected stroke took longer among those who were unmarried," said study author Uri Goldbourt, a professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Tel Aviv University. "If that were true, perhaps the probability to survive a stroke would be lower among those living alone."

Goldbourt said he had no explanation for the effect of happiness on stroke mortality. "I had not expected that unsuccessful marriage would be of this statistical importance," he said.

But it's clear that a long, happy relationship is associated with a higher likelihood of taking the recommended measures against the known stroke risk factors, said Daniel Lackland, director of graduate training at the Medical University of South Carolina, and a spokesman for the American Stroke Association.

"When you look at diabetes, one of the major stresses, and at therapeutic responses to hypertension, if you look at something like cigarette smoking, there is better support in quitting," Lackland said. "Weight loss is so much better when two people are involved."

A good marriage means "having the support that makes you more compliant with therapy," he said. "Also, you are more likely to go see a physician if you are not feeling well."

The study included a rather special group of men, Goldbourt noted. "I doubt greatly that it is something special about Israel that creates the reported relationship," he said. "If anything, the correct question could be: is there something about a migrant population that would create such a relationship?"

Most of the men (86 percent) were immigrants, some of whom arrived before the state of Israel was created, Goldbourt said. "A not inconsiderable proportion of these men had migrated from states of personal persecution and economic hardships," he said. "I don't know whether that would have something to do with the finding."

Goldbourt said he does not know of a similar study of women. "Certainly, such a study would be of great interest," he said.

"There are some suggestions that it is the same for women," Lackland said. "If you are in a good relationship, it goes both ways. Social support is better in a good relationship."

More information

The risk factors for stroke are listed by the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Uri Goldbourt, Ph.D., professor, epidemiology and preventive medicine, Tel Aviv University, Israel; Daniel Lackland, Ph.D., professor and director, graduate training, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston; Feb. 24, 2010, presentation, American Stroke Association annual stroke conference, San Antonio

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