Lead investigator Dr. Carlos L. Alviar, a cardiology fellow at the New York University Langone Medical Center, said earlier, smaller studies reported similar findings. But the size of this study, as well as the ability to consider four different vascular diseases -- peripheral artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm and coronary artery disease -- made this research different from anything previously done.
The researchers analyzed records of 3.5 million people nationwide -- ages 21 to 102, with an average age of 64 -- who were evaluated for cardiovascular diseases. Overall, 69 percent were married, 13 percent were widowed, 8.3 percent were single and 9 percent were divorced.
After adjusting for age, sex, race and other cardiovascular risk factors, Alviar and colleagues found marital status independently associated with cardiovascular disease -- for both men and women across the four conditions of vascular disease. Married people were 5 percent less likely to have any vascular disease compared with singles.
However, being divorced or widowed was associated with a greater likelihood of vascular disease compared with being single or married, while widowers had 3 percent higher odds of any vascular disease and 7 percent higher odds of coronary artery disease. Divorce was linked with a higher risk of any vascular disease.
For people age 50 and younger, marriage is associated with 12 percent lower odds of any vascular disease, but this dropped to 7 percent for those ages 51 to 60 and only 4 percent for those age 61 and older.
"The association between marriage and a lower likelihood of vascular disease is stronger among younger subjects, which we didn't anticipate," Alviar said in a statement.
The findings are scheduled to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session in Washington.
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