'Thanks for the Stroke, Ma!' Study Says Divorce May Turn Kids Into Time Bombs

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, Medical Conditions, In The News

stroke divorce picture

Getting a divorce might boost your child's stroke risk. Credit: Getty Images

Years from now, after all the therapy bills have been paid, after you think your child has finally made peace with your divorce, the entire left side of his body will go numb. He will have minutes to get to the hospital.

You can probably blame yourself for that, too.

Divorce is apparently the guilt trip that never ends. Researchers at the University of Toronto say divorce may create a ticking time bomb in children, leaving them at twice the risk of a stroke later in life.

Sure. Take all the fun out of divorce.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports the researchers went over census data from some 13,000 Canadians from Manitoba and Saskatchewan and found 10 percent of them came from what we once called "broken homes."

Of those people, about 248 of them reported a history of stroke.

Adjusting for age, race, gender, education, socioeconomic background, family medical history, adult mental health and other factors, researchers concluded that children of divorce appear 2.2 times more likely to have strokes sometime in their lives.

The study's author, Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson of the University of Toronto, tells BusinessWeek she's not out to be the prophet of doom.

"I certainly don't want this to be taken to mean that children from divorced households are condemned to have strokes," she says. "This is just one factor among many that may increase stroke risk."

In other words, don't kick yourself if your 50-year-old son has a stroke after going on the Elvis Diet.

"And we don't know that it's causal, in the sense that divorce leads to a stroke," Fuller-Thomson says. "It could be that many other things are at work here that are related to divorce, but are not divorce itself. We just don't know yet."

Still, she admits, the whole idea is kind of cool.

"If this holds up, one possible explanation is that adverse child experiences may become physically embedded in the way you react to stresses later on in life, particularly in terms of dysfunctions in cortisol levels, which is what's involved in the fight-or-flight mechanism" she tells BusinessWeek.

"It's possible, she adds. "But that's just a hypothesis at this point."

Oh, one other thing to consider, she tells BusinessWeek, is that people who reported strokes are generally older. That means their folks got divorced in the 1930s through the 1950s. Divorce might be more traumatic when your parents were Ward and June Cleaver from "Leave it to Beaver" rather than Peter and Lois Griffin from "Family Guy."

"The consequences and context for divorce were quite different," Fuller-Thomson tells BusinessWeek. "So we can't take their experience and project into the future, since it's very different to be a child of divorce today. So this is novel and interesting, but people really should not go into panic mode over it."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.