March 12, 2008 -- Caregivers for heart patients may have their own heart risks that need attention, new research shows.
The findings suggest that when someone is hospitalized for heart disease, their loved ones may step up their own heart health if given some guidance.
"It appears that cardiac caregivers may be at increased risk of cardiac diseases themselves," Lori Mosca, MD, PhD, says in a news release.
"When a cardiac patient is hospitalized, there may be a unique opportunity to identify and help family members at risk of heart disease themselves," says Mosca, who is a professor of medicine and director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.
Mosca's team sized up heart risks in 501 people who had a loved one hospitalized with heart disease.
Among the participants, 39% were the primary caregiver for their loved one; they were mainly married women age 50 and older.
Those caregivers were particularly likely to report two heart hazards: eating too much saturated fat and having a larger waist. Also, those experiencing a lot of caregiver stress tended to be depressed and not to have much social support.
But caregivers turned their heart health around with a little help.
The researchers randomly assigned some caregivers to get screened and educated about heart-healthy dietary habits, such as limiting how much fat and cholesterol they ate.
Six weeks later, 79% of the caregivers met the dietary guidelines, up from 53% before screening and education.
Having a loved one hospitalized for heart disease may be a "motivational moment" for caregivers to tend to their own hearts, if they get support to do so.
"It's important that we develop more systematic approaches to identifying caregivers, educating them and providing them with the proper support systems," says Mosca. "If a caregiver dies of a heart attack, it's not going to help the cardiac patient."
The findings were presented today at the American Heart Association's 48th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.