Stress and high blood pressure: divorce increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack

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silhouette of man and woman under yellow sky

Stess and high boold pressure isn’t a great combination. Divorcees, especially women, suffer a higher risk of heart attack and hypertension, in comparison to people of the same age who are married. This is due to an elevated stress level that favors hypertension.

The stress of divorce is therefore a factor for cardiovascular risk comparable to the pain caused by the death of a loved one. This is shown in a Duke University study carried out on 15 thousand people and published in Circulation magazine.

The study, carried out between 1992 and 2010, showed that about one in three people had been through at least one divorce, and that divorced women had a 24% higher risk of heart attack than those who had remained married. The risk was as much as 77% higher for women who had been through multiple divorces. Divorce appeared to have negative effects on men too, although not as severe as on women. In fact, those who had been through one divorce had a 10% increase in risk of having a heart attack, while those who had been through multiple divorces had a 30% increase in risk. Linda George, one of the researchers involved in the study, explained that this risk is similar to that caused by hypertension or diabetes. For those who re-married, the increase in risk was marginally reduced in women, and eliminated entirely in men.

Why? According to Linda George the reason is the psychological stress, which has an effect on the immune system, therefore increasing the level of inflammation and hormonal stress. This can have a physiological cost over the years. George concludes by explaining that divorce has a greater psychological effect on women than men, visible in the rates of depression. If medication can reduce the risk caused by hypertension, then what can help with the pain caused by divorce? According to the study, the best way is to rely on support from close friends and loved ones.

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