Being in a close relationship that has many negative aspects - such as conflict, hurtful exchanges and low levels of emotional and practical support - may raise a person's risk of developing heart disease, new research suggests.
In a long-term study of about 9 000 individuals, those who experienced a high level of negativity in their close relationships were 34 percent more likely to experience a heart disease-related event than those with a low level of negative close relationships.
The association was weakened somewhat, but still remained statistically significant, after the researchers factored in negative personality traits and depression.
This suggests that emotions may contribute to ties between negative relationships and heart disease.
Negative relationship can cause physical problems
"A person's heart condition seems to be influenced by negative intimate relationships," Dr Roberto De Vogeli and colleagues at University College London conclude in a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Prior studies have shown that negative marital interactions are associated with depression, often in combination with reduced self-esteem and/or higher levels of anger, they note.
These emotional reactions, they point out have been found to influence heart disease through the cumulative "wear and tear" effect on the body.
How the study was done
In the current study, 9 011 British civil servants answered questions about the negative aspects of their close relationships and about how much regular emotional and practical support they received from their significant other. They then followed events for an average of 12.2 years.
Of the 8 499 individuals free of heart disease at the outset and who provided adequate information for the analysis, 589 experienced heart attack, chest pain, and other heart-related events.
There was a "dose-response association" between more reports of stressful close relationships and the occurrence of heart disease, after adjusting the data for a number of factors that might influence the results including age, obesity, diabetes, cholesterol level, depression, job stress, and health habits.
Psychological versus physiological
The risk of heart disease did not appear to be affected by the level of emotional or practical support received.
"It is possible that negative aspects of close relationships are more important for the health of individuals because of the power of negative close relationships to activate stronger emotions (worrying and anxiety) and the consequent physiological effects," the authors write.
"In contrast, other more positive forms of support may not affect the physiology of individuals in a measurable or clinically relevant way." - (Reuters Health)
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