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“Heartbreak” is purely figurative, referring to the sadness over a loved one wounding our emotional state, not our biological heart. However, a new study from researchers at the Yale School of Public Health indicates that the concept can become literal—at least, for those married or in a committed relationship. The study found that among 1,593 adults who were treated for a heart attack, there was an independent association between severe marital stress and worse recovery through their first year after hospital discharge. This association was strong even after adjusting for patient demographics.
The authors of the study, doctoral graduate Cenjing Zhu and Professor of Epidemiology Judith Lichtman, found that when following up after a year on symptoms reported by patients such as depression, chest pain, and overall quality of life, a strong association with marital stress still appeared in every aspect of their recovery.
To the researchers, this calls attention to a need for better awareness that marital stress and other factors in the psychosocial domain could be important factors during the recovery process. “We absolutely have to think about all of the acute care, but we also have to broaden our perspective to think about other aspects that may be contributing to how well somebody recovers,” Lichtman said.
“From a care provider perspective, there should be more prompting during their day-to-day communications with their patients about how they’re doing.” Zhu said. “It’s not only about numbers in the clinical factors, but also their overall well-being.” The study emphasizes the overlooked importance of overall social and mental well-being on physical recovery.