Can Marriage Heal a Broken Heart? Researchers Find Married Patients Fare Better After Heart Surgery

PHOTO: Researchers found married patients tended to do better than single or divorced patients after serious heart surgery. Getty Images
Researchers found married patients tended to do better than single or divorced patients after serious heart surgery.

Researchers have found it might take more than a skillful surgeon and nursing staff to help a patient fully recover from heart surgery.

In a new study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that married patients appeared to do far better than single or divorced patients.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studied 1,576 adults over the age of 50 who had undergone serious cardiac surgery. Researchers examined how each patient did post-surgery and asked if they were married, single, divorced or widowed.

They found that married patients did significantly better than the other patients who were not married. According to the study, those who were unmarried had a 40 percent greater chance of dying or developing a new disability two years after their surgery.

Dr. Ashish Shah, head of heart transplantation at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the findings echo earlier studies that found married patients tend to do better in surgery than those who are unmarried. Shah said, however, the key will be understanding why these patients do better and seeing if there is a way to help other patients get the support and help they need even if they don't have a current partner. Shah was not involved or affiliated with the study.

"There’s always been the feeling that people who have [a person] that is supporting them tend to do better," Shah told ABC News. "Most heart surgeons would agree that emotional stressors will complicate operations."

Shah said surgeons used to focus on the mantra of "cut well, tie well, do well," for treating patients, but they are now looking more at what happens to that patient out of the hospital.

"Most experienced heart surgeons [will] say, 'Who’s at home with you and how is their health?,'" said Shah.

Shah said he does not believe that only married people who undergo heart surgery can reap the associated benefits.

"It may be as simple as being supported…if you have a good friend or parent," to help you, said Shah. "I certainly don’t think that this says don’t get divorced…in case you have heart surgery."