A Long, Happy Marriage Can Save a Life

New research shows spouses are critical to stroke survival

Time lost is “brain lost” when it comes to surviving a stroke. Recognizing the signs and getting to the hospital quickly are critical in not just saving a life — but in the victim’s full recovery.

And married people have a leg up, according to a new study.

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After following a group of stroke survivors for an average of five years, researchers found that those who were never married, remarried, divorced, or widowed had significantly higher risks of dying, compared to those who had a long-term stable marriage. The risk of dying after a stroke for those who had never married was actually 71 percent greater than for those who stayed continually married.

People who were divorced, remarried, or widowed were about 23 percent more likely to die after a stroke — though the risks associated with divorce decreased over time.

“A handful of recent studies have shown how social stress, such as job loss and marital loss, increase the risk of suffering a serious health event such as a heart attack or stroke,” lead study author Matthew Dupre of the Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina, told Reuters Health. “This is the first [study] to show that marital history can have significant consequences for prognosis after a stroke. And a somewhat unexpected finding was that remarriage doesn’t seem to reduce the risks from past divorce or widowhood.”

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Those who died were said to be older, less educated, and have lower levels of income. They were also less likely to have children and take their blood-pressure medication — and more likely to suffer from depression and other chronic illnesses.

“A growing body of work shows how our social relationships have immediate and lasting consequences for our health,” Dupre said. “It’s important for stroke survivors to understand how their marital history may impact their recovery.”

Related: For a Long, Healthy Life, Medicine Isn’t the Answer

Stroke remains one of the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. What is concerning, health officials recently said, is that stroke rates continue to decline in people 55 and older while more than doubling in those between ages 35 and 39. Higher rates of obesity, diabetes and failure to take prescribed medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol may be contributing to the upswing, according to the American Heart Association.

F.A.S.T. — which stands for Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time to call 911 — is an ongoing awareness campaign of the Stroke Association in the hope it helps people recognize the signs of stroke so that they know what to do.

Other symptoms of stroke include:

  • sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body;
  • sudden confusion, or trouble speaking or understanding;
  • sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes;
  • sudden trouble walking, or dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and
  • sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

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