Risk of death in single heart failure patients higher than in married couples

Würzburg, Germany — Single people with heart failure are more likely to die young than their married friends, new study finds. Researchers say the social interactions that are an inescapable part of marriage can help married people recover from their onslaught.

Put simply, husbands and wives can help their loved one become healthier, encourage them, and give them their medicine. In contrast, unmarried people lack self-confidence and immediate support in dealing with their heart problem.

Previous research showed that those who are not married are more prone to heart failure.

For the study, researchers in Germany looked at 1,022 people who were hospitalized for severe heart problems between 2004 and 2007. Of the 1,008 patients who gave the team their marital status, 63 percent had a spouse, while 37 percent were unmarried.

The unmarried group included 195 widows, 96 never tying the knot, and 84 separated or divorced. Their quality of life, self-efficacy, and social limitations were measured using the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire, designed specifically for people with heart failure.

Social limitation refers to the extent to which the disease limits people’s ability to interact socially, pursue hobbies, or visit family and friends. Self-efficacy describes patients’ perceptions of their ability to prevent heart failure from worsening and to manage complications.

Depressed mood was also measured.

Married and unmarried people had the same quality of life and suffered from depressed mood at the same rate. However, the unmarried group performed worse than the married group on social limitations and self-efficacy.

During the ten-year follow-up, 67 percent of the patients died.

Being unmarried put people with heart disease at higher risk of dying from cardiovascular complications and other conditions. Widowed patients had the highest risk of death.

The researchers say heart failure support groups for unmarried people can help bridge the void left by a loved one and educate them on how to manage their condition. They are now working on a mobile app that they hope will help people with heart failure better manage their disease in everyday life.

“Social support helps people cope with long-term illnesses. Spouses can assist with medication, provide encouragement, and help develop healthier behaviors, all of which could impact longevity. In this study, unmarried patients showed fewer social interactions than married patients and lacked confidence in coping with their heart failure,” says study author Dr. Fabian Kerwagen from the Comprehensive Heart Failure Center at the University Hospital Würzburg in a statement.

“We are investigating whether these factors could also partially explain the association with survival. The link between marriage and longevity highlights the importance of social support for heart failure patients, an issue made even more relevant by social distancing during the pandemic,” Kerwagen continues. “Healthcare professionals should consider asking patients about their marital status and broader social group, and recommending heart failure support groups to fill potential gaps. Education is vital, but healthcare providers also need to build patients’ confidence in their self-care abilities. We are working on a mobile healthcare application that we hope will help heart failure patients manage their condition on a daily basis.”

The results were presented today (5/21/22) at the Heart Failure 2022 conference, part of the European Congress of Cardiology, taking place in Madrid, Spain.

Report by Gwyn Wright, writer for the South West News Service

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