Your Marriage Affects Your Chances Of a Stroke

Marriage is one of the most meaningful decisions in an adult person's life because it substantially interlaces with almost every aspect of life. Marriage can be a source of love, happiness, and security. Marriage can also induce stress, anxiety or heartache and many marriages are so tumultuous that they ultimately break apart.

It has been shown that the well being and stability of a marriage can have a notable impact on a person’s health. And recent scientific studies are finding that marriage plays a consequential role on the risk of stroke, which is among the most life altering medical events throughout a person's lifetime.

In fact, a 2016 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that being married was associated with better survival after a stroke. These results are consistent with several other scientific findings that link a healthy marriage with stroke survival and even with a decreased risk of having a stroke. Surprisingly, the impact of marriage on stroke risk lasts for several generations. And, another interesting tidbit is that marriage appears to affect men and women differently when it comes to stroke risk.

Marriage Does Impact Stroke Risk

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Interestingly, marital stability affects not only the couple's stroke risk, but also the stroke risk of their adult children years down the road. But not only does the state of a couple's marriage affect the risk of stroke, a stroke can also affect the state of a couple's marriage. 

A severe stroke can cause such a transformation in a stroke survivor's personality, that it can affect the quality and contentment of marriage for the spouse, who is typically the primary caregiver. Depression is the most common personality change after a stroke. Other stroke induced changes in personality include loss of empathy, loss of sense of humor, and even newly developed feelings of jealousy.

Stroke Risk After Divorce

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 A study published in Sweden reported that stroke incidence rises within the first few years after a marriage ends.

A stroke has a higher likelihood of occurring whether a marriage ends due to divorce or due to the death of a spouse. The increase in stroke rates affected both men and women, but it was noted to be more significant for men than for women.

There are a number of possible explanations for the upsurge in stroke risk when a marriage ends, including anxiety, sadness and a decline in self-care. Additionally, changes in lifestyle after marriage may differ for men and women, and this could explain the different rates of stroke between men and women subsequent to the termination of a marriage. Interestingly, men who had never been married did not demonstrate an increased rate of stroke compared to married men of the same age, which suggests that it is the ending of a marriage, rather than the lack of marriage, that most prominently contributes to stroke risk.

Stroke Risk in an Unhappy Marriage

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While divorce affects stroke incidence differently for men than it does women, an unhappy marriage also affects men and women in different ways. An investigation from The University of Colorado at Boulder reported that an unhappy marriage, identified as poor marital adjustment, resulted in a higher rate of development of stroke risk factors for women, but not for men.

And there are many potential explanations for this finding, including differences in the ways that men and women respond to surveys or differences in  the way they view marital satisfaction.

Stroke Risk in Children of Divorce

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Surprisingly, divorce has been found to have a long-term impact on stroke risk for more than just the couple. A study published in the International Journal of Stroke concluded that parental divorce during childhood increases the risk of stroke for men in adulthood by threefold.

Interestingly, there was no association of parental divorce during childhood on stroke risk for adult women. Given that divorcing parents do not typically take the decision to separate lightly, negative descriptions of children’s long-term outcomes may lead to increased feelings of guilt and blame. However, it is important to note that the study does not point to an exact cause or physiology behind the increase in stroke rates among the adult males who experienced childhood parental divorce.

Stroke and its Effect on Marriage

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For those couples who stay together, they go through the experience of one spouse's stroke 'together.' 

Being married has been shown to improve stroke survival for those who do have a stroke. This finding was true for men and women, and it turned out that those who were married had a higher chance of survival than those who had never been married and those who had been divorced.

This could be explained by the fact that a stroke survivor who has a spouse also has a number of practical advantages. Getting to the hospital promptly has been shown to increase survival after a stroke, because life saving treatment can be administered. This often depends on whether there is a companion available to call for emergency help when stroke symptoms begin. Post stroke recovery at home may involve a number of prescriptions, medical visits and therapy appointments, all of which can go more smoothly if there is an involved spouse who can remind the stroke survivor to take prescribed medication and to follow through with medical appointments.

In addition to the practical advantages, there may also be some  subtle advantages to having a spouse, such as emotional support. Some studies show that a peaceful emotional and spiritual life can help in stroke recovery.

A stroke can produce a number of neurological changes, including alterations in the stroke survivor's ability to understand other people’s feelings and facial expressions. The lack of appropriate social and emotional responses from the stroke survivor can be very difficult for the stroke survivor's spouse, and may decrease marital satisfaction for the healthier spouse, who is usually the primary caregiver, after a stroke.

Sources:

Emotion recognition and marital satisfaction in stroke, Blonder LX, Pettigrew LC, Kryscio RJ, Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, March 2012

Gender differences in the association between parental divorce during childhood and stroke in adulthood: findings from a population-based survey, Fuller-Thomson E, Dalton AD, International Journal of Stroke, December 2012

Marital History and Survival After Stroke, Dupre ME, Lopes RD, J Am Heart Assoc. 2016 Dec 14;5(12)

A Word Ftom Verywell

Marriage plays a huge role in one's life. It is not a big surprise then, that the quality of a marriage can impact stroke, which is a disease caused by the interaction of a number of complex social, emotional and health factors. It is especially fascinating that marital well being and divorce affect men and women so differently - and even affects their sons differently than it affects their daughters.

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