Sian Claire Owen, medical journalist for Cardio Debate, UK

Marital status could impact on your heart health, according to new research published in Heart journal which indicates that being single, widowed or divorced could lead to an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. [1]

Researchers in the UK analysed data from MEDLINE and Embase using 34 studies that included over 2 million people. The outcomes were CVD, CHD, stroke incidence and mortality. The data revealed that being divorced was linked with an increased risk of CHD in both men and women. Widowers were more at risk of stroke, and single men and women with myocardial infarction were at a higher risk of mortality than their married counterparts. No significant differences in gender was observed.

The authors outline a number of theories behind these results. Married people, or people in stable relationships tend to benefit from ‘spousal support’, which includes encouragement to seek medical advice and treatment when needed, the promotion of healthy lifestyles, and ensuring adherence to medical regimens.

Furthermore, couples tend to have more favourable financial resources than single people, which can often translate into healthier lifestyles and better medical care. Additionally, the emotional stress of losing a partner, or chronic loneliness, may exacerbate existing CVD risks.

The link between stress caused by loneliness and heart disease has been well-established since the 1970s, [2] and these results come against a backdrop of increasing loneliness in UK society.

A recent article in The Telegraph states that over 9 million people are suffering from chronic loneliness, and the problem is being taken so seriously that we now have the world’s first Loneliness Minister. [3]

Although the study in question focuses on marital status, other studies have tried to examine the effect of loneliness on health and wellbeing. In fact, loneliness is associated with a wide range of diseases from CVD and stroke to lung disease and metabolic disorders. [2]

However, to return to the original question as to whether marital status should be considered an independent risk factor for CVD, the authors state that being married does indeed seem to be linked with lower incidences of CVD and CV mortality, but the lack of social support for those who are not in relationships may also be a factor.

Therefore, more research is needed to determine whether marital status should be considered a CVD risk factor.