Divorced women at 'increased risk of heart attack'

Sad wife looking at her ring after fight with husband

Anyone who has been through the heartbreak and stress of divorce will know that it can have a huge impact on health. Now researchers have found evidence to show that divorcees are more likely to have a heart attack than their married counterparts.

Women most affected
The US study of 15,827 people found that chronic stress, linked to divorce, had a long-term impact on the body. Researchers at Duke University found that women were worst affected. Women who divorced once were 24% more likely to have had a heart attack than their peers who remained married. The figure was 77% for those having multiple divorces.

In men, there was a 10% extra risk for one divorce and 30% increase after multiple divorces. Researcher Prof Linda George explained: "This risk is comparable to that of high blood pressure or if you have diabetes, so it's right up there, it is pretty big."

When it came to remarriage, men seem better at bouncing back than women. She told BBC News: "We joke around here and call it the 'any-women-will-do orientation' for men. They're more comfortable being married than not married and cope with different women being their spouses. "First marriages are protective for women and it's a little dicey after that."

Heart attack warning times
Heart disease is the world's biggest killer, and there are many factors that affect your risk of suffering a heart attack aside from the stress of divorce, namely smoking, diet, weight, and genes. There are also specific times where the risk of a cardiovascular emergency is increased.

Early morning
The last few hours of sleep and the first few hours of the day are the most dangerous times where heart attacks are concerned. Researchers at Harvard estimated that the extra risk of suffering an attack between 6am and midday is around 40 per cent, and greater than that during the first three hours of your day, since this is when coronary blood flow is reduced. The same is true during the last phase of sleep, where REM usually occurs. Therefore it can be a risky time for those with heart problems.

Sporting emotions
We all know that passions run high during big sporting events, and all that heightened emotion apparently increases the risk of a cardiovascular event too. In 2008, German researchers found that the number of cardiac emergencies rose significantly each time the German football team played in the 2006 World Cup, while on the days they were not playing, the incidence of heart attacks was similar to a standard day. And there's particularly bad news for the Brits - a 2002 study focusing on the influence of penalty shoot-outs on our health found a definite increase in the number of heart attacks when England inevitably fell short.

The flu virus causes an inflammatory response that can damage the arteries, while dehydration thickens the blood and increases the risk of a clot. Combined with an increased heart rate, a nasty virus can pose a threat to those already at risk.

Mondays at work
According to heart doctor Joel Kahn, heart attacks are more likely to occur on the day we go back to work after a break, and that means it's important to keep Mondays anything but manic. Try banishing the blues with a spot of meditation, yoga or a stroll in the park, and keep the stress that can increase blood pressure at bay.

The phrase 'died of a broken heart' may not be far from the truth. According to US researchers, grieving people are more likely to have a heart attack in the week following the death of a loved one, while a Swedish study suggests the risk of a cardiovascular emergency is increased for several years following the death of an adult sibling. Grief counselling, or simply opening up to friends and family can help to ease the stress and anxiety at such a difficult time, and therefore lower the risk of a heart attack.

Do you believe your health problems were the result of a painful divorce? Leave a comment below...

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