MONDAY, March 12, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Married heart surgery patients are far less likely than single patients to die in the first three months after their operation, a new study finds.
The survival rate was more than three times as high for married patients as for single patients three months after surgery, the researchers report in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Although the difference in survival was strongest in the first few months, the analysis of data from more than 500 male and female patients who had emergency or elective coronary bypass surgery also found that the strong protective effect of marriage continued for up to five years.
Overall, single patients were nearly twice as likely to die as married patients.
"The findings underscore the important role of spouses as caregivers during health crises," lead author Ellen Idler, a sociologist at Emory University in Atlanta, said in a journal news release. "And husbands were apparently just as good at caregiving as wives."
Interviews with the patients provided some possible clues to explain the difference in the survival rates between married and single patients.
"The married patients had a more positive outlook going into the surgery," Idler said. "When asked whether they would be able to manage the pain and discomfort, or their worries about the surgery, those who had spouses were more likely to say yes."
Among patients who survived more than three months, single patients were about 70 percent more likely to die during the next five years than those who were married, the researchers said. Smoking accounted for the higher risk of death among single patients, they concluded.
"The lower likelihood that married persons were smokers suggests that spousal control over smoking behavior produces long-term health benefits," Idler said.
She noted that the low marriage rate in the United States is cause for concern. Barely half of U.S. adults are married, the lowest percentage ever, according to the Pew Research Center.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about heart surgery.