The benefits of marriage extend beyond social interaction and tax breaks to certain health benefits, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and a longer life. Now, new research presented at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference in Manchester suggests that married people who suffer heart attacks may be more likely to survive and need fewer days in the hospital afterwards.

Researchers at institutions including Aston Medical School and the University of East Anglia found that married people were 14 percent less likely to die after a heart attack than single people. They are also more likely to be discharged from a hospital two days sooner than single people, which is a financial benefit.

"Our results should not be a cause for concern for single people who have had a heart attack.” Dr. Nicholas Gollop of the University of East Anglia said in a statement. “But they should certainly be a reminder to the medical community of the importance of considering the support a heart attack survivor will get once they're discharged.”

For the study, researchers examined more than 25,000 patients diagnosed with heart attack between January 2000 and March 2013. Nearly 12,000 were married, 2,500 were single, more than 1,000 were divorced, 4,000 were widowed, and more than 5,000 were unmarried. It also included five people who had a common law relationship, 284 who were separated, and 241 people whose marriage or relationship status were unknown. Participants were on average age 67; 80 percent were white; and 64 percent male.

Thirty-eight percent of the heart attack patients died, and survivors stayed in the hospital for seven days on average. Widowed patients had the highest mortality rate at 62.9 percent, with unmarried, married, and divorced patients coming in at 35.3, 34.3 and 34.2 percent, respectively. Single patients only had a crude mortality of 29.7 percent. However, after accounting for age, sex, and gender, researchers found that married, widowed, and never-married patients had statistically lower mortality rates when compared to single people, or those who may have been married before. Based on the findings, researchers concluded that marital status has a clinically important impact on heart attack survival and length of hospital stay as single patients showed higher mortality rates and longer length of hospital stay compared to married patients.

They aren’t exactly sure why married people are more likely to survive heart attacks but it may have to do with the physical and emotional support they receive from spouses. In other words, married individuals have resources to help them cope that many single people may lack. This support may give them a better chance of recovering from a potentially life-threatening event.

"A heart attack can have both devastating physical and psychological effects — most of which are hidden from the outside world,” said Dr. Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation. “These findings suggest the support offered by a spouse can have a beneficial effect on heart attack survivors, perhaps helping to minimize the impact of a heart attack.”

Being discharged from the hospital sooner has its financial incentives, but it can also lower a patient’s risk of hospital-acquired infections such as bloodstream infection (BSI), pneumonia, and urinary tract infection.

The bottom line is doctors are wise to consider psychosocial and coping resources their heart attack patients may have available to them before discharging them, the researchers advise. “It is reasonable to suggest that these results may be due to reduced social support at home and this should be taken into account when considering the holistic care of [heart attack] patients,” researchers wrote.

The team’s next step is to examine longer-term outcomes and consider the impact being married has on other heart conditions, such as heart failure.

Source: British Cardiovascular Society Conference. 2016.