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Study: Bad Marriage, Broken Heart

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Older couples in bad marriages have a higher risk for heart disease than those in good marriages, according to a first-of-its-kind study funded by the National Institute of Aging. It says unhappy unions are especially bad for women.

The research analyzed five years of data from 1,200 men and women between the ages of 57 and 85. They were asked questions about marital quality and heart related issues like hypertension, strokes and heart attacks.

Those with spouses who were critical and demanding had more heart problems. The lead researcher from Michigan State University says the stress of a bad marriage may stimulate more intense cardiovascular responses because of declining immune function and increased frailty that typically develop with aging.

The research also said marital quality has a bigger effect on women's heart health than on men's, possibly because women tend to internalize negative feelings and are therefore more likely to feel depressed and develop cardiovascular problems.

The lead researcher said the findings suggest the need for more marriage counseling for elderly couples.

The study is published online in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

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