Family Support A Factor In Cardiovascular Responses To Stress

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Married people who receive a high level of social support from their family - especially from their spouse - show better heart and blood pressure responses to stress than couples whose family support level is low, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.

The findings are among the first to demonstrate that the degree of perceived family support can make a difference in people's cardiovascular responses to stressful situations and may help lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. The research also highlights the value of spousal support when seeking ways to reduce cardiovascular risks.

"We feel that support from the spouse is a very important factor in terms of lowering cardiovascular risk," says Dr. Kathleen C. Light, professor of psychiatry at UNC-CH. "It may be something that couples need to be aware of and to work on, especially if there's high blood pressure or heart disease present."

For the new study, published in the June issue of the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, Light and her UNC-CH co-author, Dr. Sherry D. Broadwell, recruited 45 married couples, 24 to 50 years old, all with a child still in the home.

Each of the partners completed two standardized tests , the Dyadic Adjustment Scale and the Brief Social Support Questionnaire, in which they rated how happy they were with their spouse and how much support they received from the spouse and from the family in general. Broadwell and Light then grouped the study participants into those who reported high vs. low spouse support.

"We had the couples come in and monitored their blood pressure and other cardiovascular responses while they interacted with each other, first conversing for 15 minutes on general topics and then working into more challenging ones that they identified as real conflicts in the marriage, such as money issues, raising children," Light explains. The discussion of general topics,

Contact: Lynn Wooten
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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