Spouse with heart disease may double your risk, study suggests

Alexandra Thompson
·3-min read
Helping hand of heart donor for patient in heart disease. Man give red heart to woman as couple. People lifestyle and couple romance. Healthcare and hospital medical concept. Symbolic of Valentine day
Married couples may share more than just a home, with research linking a heightened risk of heart disease among people whose husband or wife endures the cardiovascular condition. (Stock, Getty Images)

The "what's mine is yours" approach may be the secret to a long and happy marriage, however, spouses may not realise this could also apply to their heart health.

Healthy habits are thought to be contagious, with people often being more inclined to exercise, eat well and quit smoking if their other half leads the way.

Less healthy choices may also catch on, however, with scientists from the Heart Health Research Center in Beijing revealing people are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease if their husband or wife endures the condition.

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While shared lifestyle habits may be to blame, the stress of looking after someone with heart disease could trigger similar cardiovascular complaints in the carer, the scientists have warned.

Both hands grasp the left chest of a person with chest pain.
More than one in four people in the UK die of heart disease. (Stock, Getty Images)

"We found an individual's cardiovascular disease risk is associated with the health status and lifestyle of their wife or husband," said lead author Chi Wang. 

"In addition to sharing lifestyle factors and socioeconomic environment, our study suggests the stress of caring for a spouse with cardiovascular disease may contribute to increased cardiovascular risk."

Heart disease is behind more than one in four deaths in the UK alone.

Previous research has linked an increased risk of a stroke among people who care for someone recovering from the same ordeal.

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To better understand how people's spouses influence their heart health, the Beijing scientists analysed more than 5,000 heterosexual couples aged over 45.

Between 2014 and 2016, the participants provided information on their personal health and that of their spouse, including their body mass index, blood pressure, activity level, smoking status and alcohol intake.

A history of heart disease was defined as a past heart attack or stroke, or undergoing a percutaneous coronary intervention or coronary artery bypass graft; procedures that open or bypass blocked blood vessels.

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Results – presented at the American College of Cardiology's 70th annual scientific session – reveal that among the men whose wives had heart disease, nearly a third (28%) endured the cardiovascular condition themselves.

This is compared to just over one in 10 (12%) of the men whose wives had no heart complaints. 

A man's risk was found to be highest if his wife had endured a stroke, was obese or smoked. 

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Among the women whose husbands had heart disease, just over one in five (21%) also endured the condition, compared to just 9% of the female participants whose spouse did not have a cardiovascular complaint. 

A woman's risk of heart disease was highest if her husband had endured a stroke.

"The health status and risk factors of women, who are the drivers of lifestyle in a majority of families in different cultural backgrounds, seem to affect their husbands to a greater extent than husbands' risk factors affect wives," said Wang.

Perhaps surprisingly, no link was found between a person having diabetes and their partner developing the condition, despite the type 2 form of the disease often being linked to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

Diabetes' onset can also be genetic, however, the scientists pointed out.

The participants were recruited from seven regions across China. By representing a wide range of economic and cultural backgrounds, the scientists believe their results will likely apply to the residents of other middle-income countries.

"Family-centred healthcare plays an important role in chronic health care around the world," said Wang. 

"Our finding indicates caregivers' health should be monitored as well as that of their spouse in the community and primary care setting."

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