Bad relationships could take toll on women’s hearts

By Lana Groves, Asst. News Editor

Poor marital relations producing stress in women could lead to heart disease, stroke or diabetes, according to a recent U study.

Nancy Henry, a doctoral student in psychology, studied survey results from a health and aging study at the U and noticed that women who marked high conflicts in marriage and anger toward their spouse were more likely to have high blood pressure, obesity and other risk factors for metabolic syndrome, which often leads to heart disease and other problems.

But when men were surveyed, they were found less likely to be depressed or at high risk for heart problems because of a stressful relationship.

“We know in previous research, women have a self concept that is more relationship-based,” Henry said. “They seem to ruminate more over relationship stress or struggles in a relationship.”

The wider study recruited 276 couples between the ages 40 and 70 who had been married for about 20 years. Although the study showed that women in strained relationships are at greater health risks, U researchers cautioned that the study needs to be examined for more detail.

Henry and Tim Smith, a psychology professor who co-directs the study with other U researchers, aren’t sure exactly why women are feeling the burn from stress more than the opposite sex. Marriage conflict could be related to stress and later heart problems, or another element could be involved.

Henry said if you have three or more risk factors, you’re considered to have metabolic syndrome.

Smith said that besides basic biological differences between men and women, women tend to notice differences in relationships more quickly than men.

Although the study does not advise women to avoid relationships, Smith said they might want to modify some other things in their lives, such as diet and exercise, to avoid heart problems.

“The one very important thing is make sure they pay attention to their full range of heart factors,” Smith said. “Someone who smokes should probably try to lessen how often, and beyond that, regular physical exercise is really good, and it’s good to avoid symptoms of depression.”

Smith also said something as simple as reading a book or even brief courses of counseling can help fix problems. But he warned that both partners must make an equal effort to improve the relationship and not just the woman.

[email protected]