Dec. 7, 2023 – It’s possible that doctors' offices might start sending invites to date night blood pressure screenings for couples. That’s because a new study shows that in nearly 4 in 10 heterosexual couples in the U.S., both partners have high blood pressure.
The U.S. ranked second in the study of how common it was for couples to share high blood pressure problems. The researchers also analyzed middle-aged and older couples in England, China, and India. Overall, the study included 3,989 U.S. couples, 1,086 English couples, 6,514 Chinese couples, and 22,389 Indian couples. The findings were published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The likelihood of both partners having high blood pressure was greatest in England. China and India trailed well behind with about 2 in 10 couples where both members shared the condition, which is also called hypertension. In all four countries, the likelihood of both members being affected by hypertension was greater than the likelihood of a single member having it.
“High blood pressure is more common in the U.S. and England than in China and India, however, the association between couples’ blood pressure status was stronger in China and India than in the U.S and England. One reason might be cultural. In China and India, there’s a strong belief in sticking together as a family, so couples might influence each other’s health more,” study co-lead author Peiyi Lu, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said in a statement. “In collectivist societies in China and India, couples are expected to depend and support each other, emotionally and instrumentally, so health may be more closely entwined.”
The couples in the study were married on average for 30 years.
“Many people know that high blood pressure is common in middle-aged and older adults, yet we were surprised to find that among many older couples, both husband and wife had high blood pressure in the U.S., England, China, and India,” researcher Chihua Li, DrPH, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan, said in a statement.
Among the people in the study, the researchers chose to include couples for which at least one partner was at least 45 years old. They were considered to have high blood pressure if they had one of the following:
- Systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg or greater;
- Diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg or greater; or
- A history of high blood pressure.
Those involved in the research only provided a single blood pressure reading for the study, which was considered a limitation because at least two readings is often viewed as more accurate. This latest study was considered an advancement in understanding couples’ shared health problems because it was the first study to look at hypertension among couples in multiple countries and included people beyond a single region of a country.
The research approach of looking for patterns in high blood pressure among couples stems from the concept in public health called “health concordance.” A 2007 analysis found that couples often have similar physical and mental health issues, as well as similar health behaviors, such as diet, smoking, and alcohol use.
The authors of this latest study suggested that similarities in behaviors may have helped make it more likely for both partners to have hypertension.
“One explanation is that couples' health behaviors become similar over time,” they wrote. “According to the social control theory, while wives may be more vulnerable to their husbands' health condition due to the traditional caretaker role, they may also actively attempt to change their husbands' health behaviors.”
High blood pressure is a major health problem in the U.S., affecting nearly half of the nation’s adult population and causing or adding to 691,095 deaths in the U.S. in 2021, according to the CDC.
The new findings suggest that new approaches for diagnosing and managing high blood pressure could include couple-based approaches like joint screenings, skills training, and couples-based treatment programs, the authors wrote.