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How Healthy Are You?

Couples Share Rising Blood Pressure Risks

Associations May Help Foster Treatments

Couples Share Rising Blood Pressure Risks

By John Salak –

Live together and perhaps you’ll suffer together as well. Eventually, these individuals can even heal together when it comes to high blood pressure.

The American Heart Association came to this conclusion after it was surprised to learn that an astonishingly high percentage of heterosexual couples tend to have high blood pressure at the same time. 

High blood pressure is already common among mature adults worldwide. Approximately half of adult U.S. men and 44 percent of women have high blood pressure and the percentages only go up with age, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. By age 60 about 60 of all mature adults suffer from it but by age 70 the percentage can creep up to 75 percent. 

At any age, having hypertension raises the risk of heart disease and stroke, which the CDC notes are leading causes of death in the United States.

The report by the American Heart Association, however, noted a surprising link between the disease in heterosexual couples. 

“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,” said senior author Chihua Li, Dr.P.H., a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan. “For instance, in the U.S., among more than 35% of couples who were ages 50 or older, both had high blood pressure.”

The research specifically investigated the link between heterosexual partners in the U.S., England, China and India. It follows up on previous studies that explored the union of high blood pressure and other diseases among couples in a single country setting.

“Ours is the first study examining the union of high blood pressure within couples from both high- and middle-income countries,” noted study co-lead author Jithin Sam Varghese, Ph.D., an assistant research professor at Emory University in Atlanta. “We wanted to find out if many married couples who often have the same interests, living environment, lifestyle habits and health outcomes may also share high blood pressure.”

By analyzing blood pressure measures from more than 30,000 couples in the U.S., England, China and India, the researchers discovered a surprising range of connections. 

The prevalence of both spouses or partners having high blood pressure, for example, was highest in England at 47 percent, followed by the U.S. at 38 percent, China at 21 percent and India at 20 percent.

“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,” said study co-lead author Peiyi Lu, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow at Columbia University. “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.”

While the link may be troubling, it does present an opportunity to actually help control the problem. The research team, for example, noted the findings highlight the potential of using couple-based approaches for high blood pressure diagnosis and management, such as couple-based screening, 

The researchers acknowledged that the study has its limitations, including being focused exclusively on heterosexual couples. They, nonetheless, stress that the study’s insights may help stem the rising global risk of related deaths. The American Heart Association’s 2023 statistics underscored the point by noting that in 2020 alone nearly 120,000 deaths were primarily attributable to high blood pressure.

“These findings are important because hypertension is among the most dominant modifiable cardiovascular risk factors and remains highly prevalent and poorly controlled on an increasingly global level. As the authors point out, the current focus of clinical and public health strategies to control hypertension on the individual level is not adequate. The authors suggest that interventions that target spouses may, thus, be especially effective,” said Bethany Barone Gibbs, Ph.D., FAHA, an associate professor at West Virginia University.

“Following this idea, making lifestyle changes, such as being more active, reducing stress or eating a healthier diet, can all reduce blood pressure; however, these changes may be difficult to achieve and, more importantly, sustain if your spouse or partner and greater family unit are not making changes with you,” she said.” 

 

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