The stress of caring for a family can take its toll on anyone’s health. Add in two or even three more families and it’s easy to see how someone’s risk for health complications can increase. A recent study presented at the Asian Pacific Society of Cardiology Congress 2015 (APSC 2015) has found that practicing polygamy can quadruple a person’s risk for coronary artery disease — the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries — and, subsequently, coronary heart disease.

"There is evidence that married people have better overall health and longevity, but until now no study has assessed the effect of polygamy on cardiovascular health," Dr. Amin Daoulah, a cardiologist at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said in a statement. "Men who practice polygamy have up to four concurrent wives who can reside in the same or different regions but do not normally reside in the same house. Polygamy is practiced mainly in North and West Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia."

Daoulah and his colleagues set out to determine the relationship between an individual’s number of wives and their presence and severity of coronary artery disease. Data included 687 married men referred to five hospitals in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for coronary angiography. At an average age of 59, 56 percent of participants had diabetes, 57 percent had hypertension, and 45 percent had a previous history with coronary artery disease.

While 68 percent of men had one wife, 19 percent had two, 10 percent had three wives, and three percent had four wives. On average, men with more than one wife were older, lived in rural areas, had a higher income, and a history of coronary artery bypass grafting, a type of surgery that improves blood flow to the heart. Men practicing polygamy increased their risk for coronary artery disease 4.6-fold, risk for left main artery disease 3.5-fold, and risk for multivessel disease 2.6-fold. Each man’s risk for all three disease increased as their number of wives did.

"We found an association between an increasing number of wives and the severity and number of coronary blockages," Daoulah said. "This could be because the need to provide and maintain separate households multiplies the financial burden and emotional expense. Each household must be treated fairly and equally, and it seems likely that the stress of doing that for several spouses and possibly several families of children is considerable."

Researchers provided multiple explanations for why having more than one wife can increase a man’s risk for heart disease. The stress that comes with maintaining and providing for multiple households could do severe damage to the husband’s heart health. Further research will focus on other possible explanations tied to polygamy, such as physical inactivity, diet, and the genetic effects of incest. It will also be aimed toward determining the risk for coronary artery disease among wives in a polygamist relationship.

Source: Daoulah A, et al. Polygamy increases risk of heart disease by more than 4-fold. Asian Pacific Society of Cardiology Congress. 2015.