Marital Stress Linked with Slower Healing

Emotional wounds have a share in
the physical ones; © PHIL

Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychiatry and psychology, and partner Ronald Glaser, a professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics, both at Ohio State University, say the findings provide important recommendations for patients facing surgery.

The researchers focused on a group of 42 married couples. During each visit, both the husband and wife were fitted with a small suction device which created eight tiny uniform blisters on their arms. The skin was removed from each blister and another device placed directly over each small wound from which researchers could extract fluids that normally fill such blisters.

The husbands and wives also completed questionnaires intended to gauge their level of stress. During the first visit, Kiecolt-Glaser said, each spouse was asked to talk for several minutes about some characteristic or behaviour which he or she would like to change. This was a supportive, positive discussion. “But during the second visit, we asked them to talk about an area of disagreement,” she said, “something that inherently had an emotional element.”

When the researchers analysed the wounds, the results showed the following: The wounds took a day longer to heal after the arguments than they did after the initial supportive discussion. Couples who showed high levels of hostility needed two days longer for wound-healing, compared to couples whose hostility appeared low.

“Wounds on the hostile couples healed at only 60 percent of the rate of couples considered to have low levels of hostility,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. Blood samples from those highly hostile couples showed differences as well. The levels of one cytokine – interleukin-6 (IL-6) – increased one-and-a-half times over those in couples considered less hostile.

“The fact that even this can bump the healing back an entire day for minor wounds says that wound-healing is a really sensitive process,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.; Source: Ohio State University