Marriage Linked to Better Outcomes After Heart Surgery

An older couple talks while the man lays in a hospital bed
(Image credit: Monkey Business Images/

People who are married may be more likely to survive heart surgery than people who are divorced, separated or widowed, according to a new study.

In the study, researchers looked at health and survival rates in 1,576 adults ages 50 or older who underwent cardiac surgery. They found that those who were divorced, separated or widowed were 40 percent more likely to die or develop a new disability, such as being unable to walk, during the first two years after surgery, compared with married people.

The new findings suggest that "marital status is a predictor of survival and functional recovery after cardiac surgery," the authors,from the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in their study published today (Oct. 28) in the journal JAMA Surgery.

The study's researchers interviewed the participants four times between 2004 and 2010 about their health, day-to-day functioning, medical care and family structure. [I Don't: 5 Myths About Marriage]

Among the people in the study, 65 percent were married, 12 percent were divorced or separated, 21 percent were widowed and 2 percent had never been married.

The researchers found that 19 percent of the people who were married had either died or developed a new disability during two years after the surgery. In contrast, 29 percent of those who were divorced or separated, and 34 percent of those who were widowed had either died or developed a new disability during two years after the surgery.

The also found that 20 percent of those who had never been married either died or developed a new disability during two years after the surgery

The findings are in line with previous research that has also shown married people may have higher survival rates after cardiac surgery, the researchers said.

It is not clear why married people may have greater chances of survival after cardiac surgery, but it may have something to do with the additional support and care they receive from their spouses, the researchers said. More research is needed to determine what mechanisms may explain the link between a person's marital status and their survival after a major surgery, they said.

The new results show that "at the end of the day, we have to put an emphasis on the intangible when it comes to wellness and health," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, the director of Women's Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, who was not involved in the study.

"We know from other studies that social support itself is critical for heart health, and being socially isolated is a risk factor for heart disease," Steinbaum told Live Science.

Both physicians and patients should pay more attention to these aspects of people's lives, which are no less important for people's health than physical factors such as blood pressure or cholesterol levels, she said.

Follow Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on Twitter. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Staff Writer