Spouses of heart disease patients face high risks themselves

November 09, 1999

ATLANTA, Nov. 10 -- Women whose husbands are recovering from heart attacks or open heart surgery may have a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease themselves, according to a study presented today at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.

"Currently, all of our attention centers on the heart attack patient's need to lower his or her risk factors in order to avoid disease progression," says Lynn C. Macken, R.N., M.A., coordinator of cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation at Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. "This study indicates that targeting the spouse of the patient may be important too."

The researchers studied a group of 170 men who recently had a heart attack or had undergone coronary bypass surgery for blockages in heart arteries. Approximately two months after the heart attack or heart surgery, the patient and his wife separately answered questionnaires on heart disease risk factors. The researchers analyzed the degree to which spouses shared risk factors, either good or bad.

"What we are seeing is that the wives of heart attack patients have risk factors similar to their husbands," Macken says. "In some cases, the women's risk factors were even higher than their husbands, which is particularly alarming because the women tended to be younger than their mates and were not being screened for potential heart disease."

In many cases, one risk factor shared between spouses was high body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is defined as overweight while a BMI above 30 is considered obese. Macken's group found that in 76 percent of the couples, at least one person was overweight or obese. Both partners were overweight or obese in 50 of the couples. Only 40 couples shared normal BMI levels.

In addition, in only 75 of the 170 couples did both members know their current cholesterol level.

There were also similarities in current and past smoking histories and exercise levels, indicating other ways spouses share a high-risk lifestyle, Macken says. Twice as many women as men continued to smoke following the male patient's heart attack or other coronary event. In addition, fewer women were exercising compared to men.

"When we are working with patients to help them change high risk lifestyle behaviors such as smoking and lack of exercise, we tend to assume that the patient is sharing that information with his or her family. This study indicates that is not happening, and it also says that we need to target risk reduction to include not only patients, but spouses too," she says.

"If we want to lower risk factors for patients, the change will have to begin at home and we have to be aware that both spouses may be in need of treatment," she says. "In our own program, we invite the spouses to participate. Although some spouses do participate, we don't measure their risks and we don't counsel the spouses individually," she says. "We need to think of new ways to inform and educate spouses, to give them a health risk appraisal and urge them to make lifestyle changes of their own and to seek treatment if necessary." Co-authors include Bernice C. Yates, Ph.D., R.N. and Susan Blancher, R.N., Ph.D.
Media advisory: Lynn Macken can be reached at 308-630-1138 (Please do not publish telephone number.)

American Heart Association

Related Heart Attack Articles from Brightsurf:

Top Science Tip Sheet on heart failure, heart muscle cells, heart attack and atrial fibrillation results
Newly discovered pathway may have potential for treating heart failure - New research model helps predict heart muscle cells' impact on heart function after injury - New mass spectrometry approach generates libraries of glycans in human heart tissue - Understanding heart damage after heart attack and treatment may provide clues for prevention - Understanding atrial fibrillation's effects on heart cells may help find treatments - New research may lead to therapy for heart failure caused by ICI cancer medication

Molecular imaging identifies link between heart and kidney inflammation after heart attack
Whole body positron emission tomography (PET) has, for the first time, illustrated the existence of inter-organ communication between the heart and kidneys via the immune system following acute myocardial infarction.

Muscle protein abundant in the heart plays key role in blood clotting during heart attack
A prevalent heart protein known as cardiac myosin, which is released into the body when a person suffers a heart attack, can cause blood to thicken or clot--worsening damage to heart tissue, a new study shows.

New target identified for repairing the heart after heart attack
An immune cell is shown for the first time to be involved in creating the scar that repairs the heart after damage.

Heart cells respond to heart attack and increase the chance of survival
The heart of humans and mice does not completely recover after a heart attack.

A simple method to improve heart-attack repair using stem cell-derived heart muscle cells
The heart cannot regenerate muscle after a heart attack, and this can lead to lethal heart failure.

Mount Sinai discovers placental stem cells that can regenerate heart after heart attack
Study identifies new stem cell type that can significantly improve cardiac function.

Fixing a broken heart: Exploring new ways to heal damage after a heart attack
The days immediately following a heart attack are critical for survivors' longevity and long-term healing of tissue.

Heart patch could limit muscle damage in heart attack aftermath
Guided by computer simulations, an international team of researchers has developed an adhesive patch that can provide support for damaged heart tissue, potentially reducing the stretching of heart muscle that's common after a heart attack.

How the heart sends an SOS signal to bone marrow cells after a heart attack
Exosomes are key to the SOS signal that the heart muscle sends out after a heart attack.

Read More: Heart Attack News and Heart Attack Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.