Stethoscope with heart


BEIJING — There may be no better chicken soup for the soul than a happy marriage and a heart filled with love. That said, it turns out there are some cardiovascular downsides when it comes to wedded bliss. A new study warns that having a spouse with heart disease more than doubles a person’s risk of suffering the same fate.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genetics and a number of lifestyle choices such as unhealthy diet, smoking and drinking too much alcohol influence one’s risk of developing heart disease. But now, researchers at the Heart Health Research Center in Beijing, China say a person’s choices can also affect their partner’s health.

Men in particular face a higher risk of developing heart disease if their wife smokes and has a history of strokes, the researchers say.

“We found that an individual’s cardiovascular disease risk is associated with the health status and lifestyle of their wife or husband,” says lead author Dr. Chi Wang, in a statement. “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.”

Matters of the heart

More than 5,000 heterosexual couples over the age of 45 living in seven regions of China between 2014 and 2016 were surveyed by the researchers. Participants were asked to provide details about their personal health and that of their spouse, including their body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure, which are known to increase the risk of heart disease.

They also answered questions about their lifestyle choices, such as how much physical activity they did and whether they smoked or consumed any alcohol. People’s chances of suffering from heart disease was linked to the health and lifestyle choices of their spouse, especially among men, the researchers found.

Overall, 28 percent of men whose wives had heart disease also suffered from the condition. That’s compared to just 12.8 percent of those whose spouses did not. Similarly, those whose partner had previously suffered a stroke, were obese or smoked, were most likely to end up with a heart condition, the study shows.

“Family-centered health care plays an important role in chronic health care around the world,” says Wang. “Our finding indicates caregivers’ health should be monitored as well as that of their spouse in the community and primary care setting.”

Husbands more at risk for heart disease than wives

The difference between sexes could be because women play a more prominent role in determining a family’s diet, the researchers say. Among women whose husbands had heart disease, 21 percent suffered from a similar condition, compared to just nine percent of those with healthy partners.

A woman’s likelihood of cardiovascular disease was also highest if their husband had a history of 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,” says Wang.

The researchers also looked at whether there was a similar trend for people whose partner had diabetes, but did not find any link. “This finding could indicate that genetic factors and family history of diabetes are the dominant factor for diabetes risk,” concludes Wang.

The study is part of a presentation for the American College of Cardiology’s 70th Annual Scientific Session.

SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

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