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Doctors have long known that married men tend to be a healthier bunch than single guys. And a study published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has shed some light on the phenomenon.

The research shows that men who are married or in common-law relationships are more likely to seek relatively prompt medical attention when experiencing the chest pains of a heart attack, compared with single, divorced or widowed men.

In particular, among married men, 75.3 per cent went to hospital within six hours of first experiencing chest pains. By contrast, only 67.9 per cent of single men, 68.5 per cent of divorcees and 70.8 per cent of widowers got to an emergency department within the same time period.

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The lead author of the study, Clare Atzema of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, noted a patient's chances of survival are significantly increased when medical treatment begins sooner rather than later.

"Over all, we found that marriage was protective for men," she said. "They don't die as young from cardiovascular disease because they are coming to the emergency room earlier than their single counterparts."

But the study, which is based on data from 4,403 Ontario heart-attack patients, didn't find that women benefited in the same way from being married or in a common-law relationship. In other words, having a live-in partner didn't speed a woman's arrival at the ER.

Dr. Atzema noted that women have traditionally assumed the role of caregivers and they likely urge their spouses to seek prompt care when a medical problem arises. She would like to conduct a similar study in a few years to see if the results are different – given the fact that the roles of women and men are undergoing considerable change.

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