Being married to someone with cardiovascular disease makes the other spouse more than twice as likely to have heart disease as well, although the relative risk is higher among husbands than wives, according to a study recently presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session.
Researchers surveyed more than 5,000 couples over age 45 living in seven regions of China from 2014-2016. A history of cardiovascular disease was narrowly defined either as experiencing a heart attack or stroke or previously having a procedure to open or bypass blocked arteries. Participants also provided information about their personal health history and that of their spouse, including heart risk factors such as body mass index, blood pressure, physical activity level, and smoking and alcohol use.
While the risk was found to be at least double among spouses of both sexes with heart disease, the relationship between a spouse’s history of heart disease and a person’s own risk was more pronounced in men. Among men whose wives had heart disease, 28% had some form of it as well, compared to 12.8% of men whose wives did not have heart disease. Among women whose husbands had heart disease, 21% had cardiovascular disease themselves, compared to just 9% of women whose husbands did not.
In all of the couples studied, a history of stroke for one spouse was the most significant predictor of the other also suffering from heart disease.
Previous research in this area already has pointed to increased heart risks among those caring for a spouse after a stroke. Because of the larger group from varying economic backgrounds this study included, it provides a more comprehensive picture about married couples’ health status, risk factors and lifestyle variables in middle-income countries around the world, said Chi Wang, MPH, the study’s lead author.
“Family-centered health care plays an important role in chronic health care around the world,” Wang said. “Our finding indicates caregivers’ health as well as that of their spouse should be monitored in the community and primary care setting.”