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Heart Disease Health Center

Heart Disease Diagnosis Stressful for Spouses, Too

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"Distress is a normal reaction to a serious event like a heart attack," she says. "Ideally, there needs to be help for family members and spouses so they can adjust to heart disease."

The spouses of patients undergoing cardiac rehabilitation, especially younger women, should be screened for distress, O'Farrell and her colleagues conclude in their article. "Those in distress should be offered interventions focused on assisting them to deal with specific stressors related to their experience," they write.

Stress management techniques, and general counseling aimed at teaching coping skills such as problem solving, may help spouses, they write.

As it is, family members of heart patients receive little counseling or help in coping from doctors or other health care professionals. A previous study found that how well a patient copes physically and mentally with heart disease depends on his or her spouse's ability to cope with the situation. What's more, research has shown that heart patients with strong support from family members do better than those without such support, the authors of the new study point out.

Leona Hudson, a 53-year-old resident of Kemptville, Ontario, was fortunate enough to receive counseling when her husband, Dave, 57, was first diagnosed with heart disease.

Hudson was shocked when doctors told her that Dave needed a triple bypass, the surgical removal of blockages in three heart arteries. "He had never been sick, so it was a complete shock when we found out," she tells WebMD. "Now the doctors say it is a result of a genetic condition, so our two sons will need to be tested."

The hospital where Dave received surgery offered her counseling and other services to help her cope with her husband's illness and what it means to her and the rest of the family, she says.

Her advice to other spouses is to take advantage of any counseling services the hospital has to offer, and to "talk to whomever will listen and let it all out; don't keep anything inside."

Vital Information:

  • A new study finds that wives of heart disease patients experience distress, especially younger wives in their early 50s.
  • Learning stress management techniques and coping skills may help such spouses.
  • Earlier research has shown that patients with spouses who cope well with the disease do better physically and emotionally.
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