Married people are significantly more likely to survive a stroke

Stroke sufferers who’ve never been married are 71 percent more likely to die than those in a stable marriage.

The many health benefits of marriage – from better survival rates after heart attacks, to improved mental health, and greater life expectancy – have often been cited in scientific research. Now, a study from Duke University has found that marriage significantly increases the likelihood someone will survive after a stroke. We talked to lead author Matthew Dupre to find out more.

ResearchGate: Could you explain the main findings of your study and their significance?

Matthew Dupre: We found that people who never married were 71 percent more likely to die after suffering a stroke than those who were stably married. Patients who were divorced or widowed were 25 percent more likely to die. We also found that adults who experienced more than one divorce or widowhood in their lifetime were about 50 percent more likely to die after having a stroke than those in a long-term stable marriage. We were also somewhat surprised to find that remarriage did not seem to reduce the risks from past marital losses.

RG: Why is it that married people are less likely to die after a stroke than never-married or divorced and widowed people?

Dupre: Despite taking into account a wide range of suspected risks, we found that factors such as income, health insurance, depressive mood, and a variety of health behaviors did not fully account for the risks associated with a history of marital loss. It may be that the acute and chronic stress related to the loss of a spouse may have played a role – particularly among the widowed at older ages. We also suspect that marital instability may have had negative consequences for one’s medication adherence, healthcare utilization, and other behaviors for disease management that may have impeded recovery. We clearly need more research to fully understand what may be contributing to these associations.

RG: What real-world implications could the findings of your study have?

Dupre: This study adds to a growing body of research showing how our social relationships can have immediate and lasting consequences for our health. Based on our findings, it’s important for people to understand that their marital history can impact their recovery following a serious health event such as a stroke. In particular, those who have been divorced or widowed more than once should consider talking to their health care provider about ways to possibly reduce their risks and take steps to improve their prospects of long-term survival.

RG: What are the next steps in this research?

Dupre: More studies are needed to further explore the mechanisms contributing to the associations we found and to assess how such information can be used to aggressively treat vulnerable segments of the population.

RG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Dupre: We recognize that one’s marital background is not a modifiable risk factor like diet or exercise; however, we hope that this study brings a greater awareness of these risks and encourages health care providers to better recognize and tailor treatment for patients who may be particularly susceptible to dying after having a stroke. For instance, those who never marry or are without a spouse may benefit from resources to improve their social support, which we know improves the utilization of rehabilitative services, medication adherence, and changes in unhealthy behaviors. More research is needed, however, to know the full implications of our findings and to identify possible avenues of intervention.

Featured image courtesy of J. van Rosmalen.