ATLANTA, Nov. 10 -- Women whose husbands are recovering from heart attacks or open heart surgery may have a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease themselves, according to a study presented today at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.
"Currently, all of our attention centers on the heart attack patient's need to lower his or her risk factors in order to avoid disease progression," says Lynn C. Macken, R.N., M.A., coordinator of cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation at Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. "This study indicates that targeting the spouse of the patient may be important too."
The researchers studied a group of 170 men who recently had a heart attack or had undergone coronary bypass surgery for blockages in heart arteries. Approximately two months after the heart attack or heart surgery, the patient and his wife separately answered questionnaires on heart disease risk factors. The researchers analyzed the degree to which spouses shared risk factors, either good or bad.
"What we are seeing is that the wives of heart attack patients have risk factors similar to their husbands," Macken says. "In some cases, the women's risk factors were even higher than their husbands, which is particularly alarming because the women tended to be younger than their mates and were not being screened for potential heart disease."
In many cases, one risk factor shared between spouses was high body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is defined as overweight while a BMI above 30 is considered obese. Macken's group found that in 76 percent of the couples, at least one person was overweight or obese. Both partners were overweight or obese in 50 of the couples. Only 40 couples shared normal BMI levels.
In addition, in only 75 of the 170 couples did both members know their current cholesterol level.