National Post

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Saturday, October 23, 1999

Troubled relationships can lead to heart problems
Tom Arnold
National Post

Couples with ongoing stress in their relationships are best to stay away from each other or their blood pressure level could rise enough to put them at risk of cardiac troubles, concludes a new Canadian study.

"It's not something to be taken lightly," said Dr. Brian Baker, a psychiatrist at the Toronto General and Toronto Western Hospitals. "It is very significant," said Dr. Baker, who specializes in the psychological and social factors associated with cardiovascular disease.

High blood pressure, which affects 20,000 Canadians annually, is considered a serious risk factor for stroke and heart disease. About 20% of Canadians suffer from high blood pressure.

It is the first such study of its kind. According to the research, unveiled yesterday at the annual meeting of the Canadian Cardiovascular Society in Quebec City, spousal contact can aggravate or ameliorate blood pressure.

"If your marriage is in distress, then the more contact you have with your spouse, the higher the blood pressure; and the less contact you have, the lower the blood pressure," said Dr. Baker. "And the reverse was the case for those people who are in happy marriages."

Dr. Baker examined more than 200 men and women in the early stages of hypertension, measuring their blood pressure at regular intervals over a 24-hour period.

Respondents also completed a lengthy questionnaire on their relationships. He returned three years later to conduct a follow-up examination on a number of the couples. The average age of the respondents was 47.

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