Strained marriages ‘harm women’ — BBC news.

Women are more likely than men to suffer damage to their health from being in a strained marriage, research suggests.

US psychologists found wives in tense marriages were prone to risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

In comparison, husbands seemed relatively immune from such problems.

Details of the study, based on 276 couples who had been married for an average of 20 years were presented to the American Psychosomatic Society.

Each couple filled out questionnaires designed to assess the good and bad aspects of married life.

They were also rated for how depressed they appeared to be, based on their self-reported symptoms.

Doctors then carried out a battery of tests to assess whether or not the volunteers were showing signs of metabolic syndrome – a collection of symptoms pointing to a raised risk of serious disease, such as heart problems.

Women in strained marriages were more likely to be depressed and to have a greater number of symptoms of metabolic syndrome.

But although husbands in unhappy marriages were also depressed, they did not show signs of physiological damage to their health.

Researcher Nancy Henry, from the University of Utah, said the team had expected to find that negative aspects of a bad marriage, such as arguing and being angry, would translate into both mental and physical problems for both sexes.

She said: “We found this was true for wives in this study, but not for husbands.

“The gender difference is important because heart disease is the number-one killer of women as well as men, and we are still learning a lot about how relationship factors and emotional distress are related to heart disease.”

Professor Tim Smith, who co-led the research, said there was good evidence that a healthy diet and regular exercise could reduce a woman’s risk of metabolic syndrome.

However, he said: “It’s a little premature to say they would lower their risk of heart disease if they improved the tone and quality of their marriages – or dumped their husbands.

“The immediate implication is that if you are interested in your cardiovascular risk – and we all should be because it is the leading killer for both genders – we should be concerned about not just traditional risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol but the quality of our emotional and family lives.”

Christine Northam, a counsellor for the charity Relate, said there was plenty of evidence that people in a stable, happy relationship enjoyed both good health and a longer life expectancy.

She said: “The gender difference could be partly due to the fact that women’s hormonal profile is more complex than men’s.

“Women also tend to worry more about their health than men.”

Stroke post-traumatic stress risk

Many stroke sufferers are left with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a British study suggests.

More than a third of 105 brain haemorrhage survivors tested positive for the disorder, with flashbacks and painful memories of their bleed.

This is a similar level to that found in soldiers returning from war zones and amongst victims of sexual assault, Neurosurgery journal reports.

The authors of the study say diagnosing and treating PTSD will aid recovery.

Subarachnoid haemorrhage affects about 8,000 people in the UK each year and is a sudden leak of blood over the surface of the brain.

Doctors do realise this type of stroke is stressful for the patient, but they do not always ask the patient about anxiety and depression. Someone needs to

Professor Allan House of the Stroke Association

Although emotional distress following this type of stroke is common, it is under-recognised, they say, partly because clinicians tend to focus on physical recovery.

The team from Durham University, the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and the Newcastle General Hospital assessed the patients at three months and again at 13 months after their subarachnoid haemorrhage using a simple questionnaire.

At both stages, the answers given suggested 37% of the patients had PTSD.

The authors say their findings are not surprising, given the nature of this type of stroke – its sudden, often unexpected and painful onset in relatively young people, requiring emergency invasive investigations and surgery.

Add to this having to deal with the fact that they have had a life-threatening illness, it is understandable why many patients experience emotional reactions, they say.

Adam Noble and his team say it is relatively easy to spot which stroke patients are at greatest risk of PTSD by looking for signs of “poor” coping, such as denial and self-blame.

These patients could be offered pre-emptive treatment, they say.

Mr Noble suggested tailored treatment such as group therapy “and, where possible, prevention through teaching patients more appropriate stress-coping strategies after they suffer a stroke”.

Professor Allan House of the Stroke Association said: “Doctors do realise this type of stroke is stressful for the patient, but they do not always ask the patient about anxiety and depression. Someone needs to.

“Some patients undoubtedly have PTSD, while others might have depression or anxiety after a subarachnoid haemorrhage and it is understandable why.”

Peter Chapman, from Hartlepool, suffered a subarachnoid brain haemorrhage at the age of 45 in 2001.

His PTSD was not picked up until two years after his stroke.

He said: “The first six months were the worst. I was so worried that it might happen again and I have never shed so many tears in my life.

“If I had been tested and treated for PTSD right from the beginning, my life would have been 500% better than what it has been, and would have made the world of difference to my recovery.”