Divorce May Kill You—and Not Just Emotionally

We all know that ending a marriage is hard. We even call it heart-breaking. But researchers found that it really can have a very serious physical affect on the heart, especially for women.

Divorce signals an end to not only a relationship but potentially to financial stability and social circumstances as well. It can lead to spikes in the stress hormone cortisol, which can raise blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar to unhealthy heights.

In a study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, Matthew Dupre of Duke University found that the statistics were different for men and women.

Women who divorced at least once were 24% more likely to experience a heart attack compared to women who remained married, and those divorcing two or more times saw their risk jump to 77%.

Men only increased their chances of a heart attack if they divorced two or more times.

Another difference between men and women: After remarrying, men’s heart risk did not go up, while for remarried women, their chances of having a heart attack remained higher, at 35%, than that of divorced women.

“We looked at lifetime exposure to not only current marital status, but how many times someone has been divorced in the past,” Dupre explains. “What we found was that repeated exposure to divorce put men and women, but particularly women, at higher risk of having a heart attack compared to those who were married.”

Dupre is not advocating that people stay in failing relationships, which can be just as stressful as divorce. “Another way to put it is to say that women who are stably married are at an increased advantage of preventing heart attacks than women who may have had to go through transitions where they weren’t,” says Dupre.