Can marital spats predict your health problems? Absolutely, especially among husbands, according to a study by researchers from the University of California and other academic institutions that tracked dozens of married couples over 20 years.
In general, the study found, married people who explode in rage are more apt to suffer heart-related conditions; those who “stonewall” and shut down to avoid conflict are more likely to be afflicted by bad backs or muscle stiffness.
The study reveals “a new level of precision in how emotions are linked to health, and how our behaviors over time can predict the development of negative health outcomes,” UC Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson, the study’s senior author, said in a statement.
The results were based on videotaped interviews of couples discussing areas of disagreement and enjoyment. Their interactions were rated by behavioral experts looking at facial expressions, body language and tone of voice.
Anger was indicated by such behaviors as lips pressed together, knitted brows, tight jaws or voices raised or lowered beyond normal tone. Stonewalling or avoidance behavior was indicated by facial stiffness, rigid neck muscles and little or no eye contact.
That data was then linked to each person’s specific health problems, measured every five years over a 20-year span.
Spouses who were observed flying off the handle more easily were at greater risk of developing chest pain, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems. Those whose handled conflict by barely speaking and avoiding eye contact were more likely to develop backaches, muscle tension and stiff necks or joints.
The overall link between emotions and health outcomes was strongest for husbands, the study found.
“The findings could spur hotheaded people to consider such interventions as anger management,” the study noted, “while people who withdraw during conflict might benefit from resisting the impulse to bottle up their emotions.”
The study only looked at heterosexual couples in the Bay Area, who now range in age from their 60s to 90s.
The study, published in the journal Emotion, was funded by grants from the National Institute on Aging and the German Research Foundation. In addition to UC Berkeley, the study involved researchers from Stanford, San Francisco State University and Northwestern University.
Green light for migraines
For migraine sufferers, exposure to bright light can be debilitating, either triggering or exacerbating headaches.
But a certain spectrum of green light can help reduce or fend off light sensitivity in migraine-prone adults, according to researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center✔ in Boston.
The researchers asked patients experiencing acute migraine attacks to report any change when exposed to different intensities of blue, green, amber and red light. Under high-intensity light – similar to a well-lit office – nearly 80 percent of patients reported their headaches intensified with exposure to all colors, except green. In addition, green light reduced pain by about 20 percent.
The inability to tolerate light can be disabling for migraine patients, researchers noted.
“More than 80 percent of migraine attacks are associated with and exacerbated by light sensitivity, leading many migraine sufferers to seek the comfort of darkness and isolate themselves from work, family and everyday activities,” said lead author Rami Burstein,✔ academic director of the Comprehensive Headache Center✔ at Beth Israel.
To understand why green light causes significantly less pain in migraine patients, Burstein and his colleagues designed experiments in which they measured the electrical signals generated by the retina and the brain cortex in response to colors. They found that blue and red lights generated the largest signals in the retina and cortex; green light generated the smallest signals.
They also used animal models to study neurons in the brain’s thalamus. These neurons were found to be most responsive to blue light and least responsive to green light, explaining why the migraine brain responds favorably to green light.
Burstein is now working to develop an affordable light bulb that emits low-intensity green light, as well as affordable sunglasses that block all but a narrow band of green light.
‘OB Nest’ for pregnant women
Do fewer prenatal visits yield happier pregnant women? As part of ongoing efforts to improve patient satisfaction for women with low-risk pregnancies, the Mayo Clinic recently tested a new program, called the “OB Nest.”
About 300 low-risk pregnant woman were assigned to a specific, individual nurse as a primary contact. Instead of the typical 12 to 14 prenatal visits, low-risk women and their partners received eight scheduled office visits. They were also given home monitoring equipment for fetal heart rate and maternal blood pressure. In addition, they could take part in online conversations with other OB Nest participants and nurses.
The result: greater patient satisfaction, lower health care costs and more scheduling time for higher-risk pregnancies, according to a study by the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The study also noted that fewer office visits were easier on parents who might have to juggle work and family obligations to attend 12 or more prenatal office visits, which were often simply routine check-ins. Instead, women had the ability – from home – to check their own blood pressure and their baby’s heartbeat.
Rather than treating pregnancy as an illness, Mayo obstetricians wanted their care “to reflect the normal, life-bringing event that it is, and ... transform prenatal care into a wellness, patient-oriented experience,” Dr. Yvonne Butler Tobah, the study’s lead author, said in a statement.
Mayo plans to test the OB Nest model on a larger group of low-risk mothers and offer it as an option to patients.