Divorce hurts the heart, however big the pay-out

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Women who divorce are more likely to get heart disease in later life than those who stay married, according to new research. Despite the £48m divorce settlement awarded to Beverley Charman last week, it appears the majority of women who go through the trauma of divorce are more likely to suffer, literally, from a broken heart.

Researchers have established that divorced women are 60 per cent more likely to develop the disease than married women, and the negative effects persist even after remarriage. But for men, marital loss has a negligible effect on the risk of heart disease. One theory is that the emotional stress of a marital breakdown, as well as the social and economic changes, triggers physical and mental events that lead to a higher risk of developing disease.

Heather Mills, who anticipates a substantial divorce settlement after her split from the former Beatle Paul McCartney, was nevertheless reported yesterday as saying: "I have never felt more alone in my life. It's like I've been abandoned... It's like a physical pain. It just goes on and on."

According to the researchers from the University of Texas, such emotional distress can lead to profound physical effects. "Our results reveal that... women with a marital loss have a higher risk of disease in late-midlife compared to continuously married women, whereas marital loss is not associated with men's risk."

In the research, described as the first study to investigate links between marital life course and the cardiovascular disease for both men and women, academics monitored around 10,000 men and women who are interviewed every two years for health and lifestyle data. Over the 10-year study, 1,030 developed heart disease.

The researchers, who report their findings in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, showed that 11.6 per cent of divorced women and 10.7 per cent of remarried women, had heart disease, compared to 8.7 per cent of continuously married women. The risk increases with age. At 51, 9.8 per cent of remarried women, and 10.9 per cent of divorcees, have heart disease, compared to 7.3 per cent of the continuously married. By the age of 60, heart disease affects 31 per cent of remarried women, 33 per cent of divorced women, and 22 per cent of those who stay married.

Just why divorce should affect men and women differently is not clear. One idea is that: "Women tend to value themselves more in terms of family relationships... whereas men value themselves primarily in terms of their occupation."

Mrs Charman faces yet more stress as her former husband, John, 53, plans to appeal the £48m award.

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