Spouses of Heart Attack Victims May Have Similar Risks
Nov. 10, 1999 (Atlanta) -- A heart attack can often prompt healthier
behavior among its survivors, but such may not always be the case with the
survivor's spouse. That's where a health care provider may be able to keep
history from repeating itself, according to a new study.
The study, presented at the 72nd Scientific Sessions of the American Heart
Association in Atlanta, shows wives of men who have had heart attacks or are
recovering from open heart surgery may be at high risk for fates similar to
their husband's. The couples that have been together for awhile tend to share
in the same bad habits and thus, increase both of their chances for heart
Co-researcher Bernice C.Yates, PhD, RN, of the University of Nebraska
Medical Center College of Nursing in Kearney, tells WebMD, "we found that
the behavioral risk factors were similar between the spouses. They're engaging
in similar behaviors in terms of smoking, being overweight or obese, dietary
factors of fat or fiber, and exercise. So, it's telling us that the spouses may
be at higher risk [of heart disease] just because of their shared family
environment with the patient who has heart disease."
In fact, some wives even exhibit greater risk factors than their husbands.
The researchers looked at 170 men, mostly white, middle class, and retired, who
were recovering from a heart attack or open heart surgery. About two months
after the heart attack or surgery, the men and their wives were given separate
questionnaires on heart disease risk factors such as smoking, high blood
pressure, obesity, cholesterol level, diet, and exercise.
Strong similarities were found between the couples in their smoking, eating
and exercising habits, key behavioral risk factors for heart disease. Lead
researcher Lynn C. Macken, also of the University of Nebraska and coordinator
of cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation at regional West Medical Center in
Scottsbluff, Neb., tells WebMD she was most surprised by the results on the
smoking issue. "The men quit," she says, "but twice as many women
continued to smoke."
As Yates tells WebMD, after a coronary event, the patient is in a state of
recovery, so "we typically talk to the spouse about the patient. We're
implicitly assuming that the spouse is going to help the patient comply and
[then] follow the lifestyle recommendations themselves, and they're not
necessarily doing that."
Since the wife doesn't have the current heart condition her husband has, her
drive to change bad habits may not be as strong. "We need to start talking
to both the patient and the spouse, and hopefully reduce their risk for heart
disease," Yates tells WebMD.
Other family members who perhaps incorporated unhealthy habits could also
exhibit heart disease risk factors. Macken tells WebMD one ''can make the
assumption" that "since we're looking at shared lifestyles", it
could affect the whole "family environment."
And just because the wife hasn't had heart problems, Macken says, doesn't
mean there's not trouble down the road. "The women were significantly
younger than the men. The women were 58 years old [on average] and the men were
62 on average. So, when you project that out for 10 years, which is when you
normally expect women to start showing signs of heart disease, then you can
project it's going to be a bad outcome for them 10 years from now. It won't get
better unless they do something now."