A real heartache


Marital fights influence hardening of arteries in spouses: Study

Mon, March 6, 2006


Don't fight with your spouse -- unless you're looking for heartache.

A new study finds hardening of the coronary arteries is more likely in wives when they and their husbands are hostile during marital spats, and it's more common in husbands when either they or their wives act in a controlling manner.

"Stresses or strains over time in our lives can influence the development of heart disease and artherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and a low-quality relationship is a risk factor," said lead author Dr. Tom Smith, psychology professor at the University of Utah.


"We found that women who displayed more hostility during disagreements had more atherosclerosis, especially if their husbands are hostile too," Smith said.

It was not the hostility, but the control, that affected men.

The three-year study involved 150 healthy, older, married couples, mostly in their 60s. Each couple received CT scans to look for calcification in their coronary arteries -- the arteries that supply the heart muscle and that can cause a heart attack when clogged.

Each couple was told to pick a topic -- such as money, in-laws, children, vacations and household duties -- that was a subject of disagreement in their marriage.

Each couple discussed the chosen topic for six minutes while they were videotaped and they were given a code indicating whether they felt the discussion was friendly, hostile, submissive, dominant or controlling.

"The study confirms the general suspicion the field's had for a long time that our heart health is not determined by traditional risk factors and that stress and strain in our daily lives is closely related and can have a negative effect," Smith said.