Spouses of ICU patients are at increased risk for heart disease, a new study has found. Photo by UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Having a spouse in a hospital intensive care unit increases a person's risk for a heart attack or cardiac-related hospitalization, according to a study published Monday in the journal Circulation.
The analysis of health outcomes for more than 1 million married couples found that those with a spouse in the ICU were 27% more likely to be admitted to the hospital with some form of heart disease than those whose spouses were healthy, the data showed.
They also are at slightly higher risk for being diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, the researchers said.
"Spouses of ICU patients should pay attention to their own physical health, especially in terms of [heart] disease," study co-author Hiroyuki Ohbe said in a statement.
"The ICU can be a stressful environment with significant care-giving burdens, and spouses may face tough decisions about continuing or ending life-sustaining treatment," said Ohbe, a doctoral student in the department of clinical epidemiology and health economics at The University of Tokyo.
Roughly one in four family members of a critically ill patient experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression, a phenomenon called "post-intensive care syndrome-family," the researchers said.
In addition, these family members may be at increased risk for heart disease in the first few weeks following the death of a loved one -- a condition referred to as "broken-heart syndrome."
For this study, the researchers matched spouses of patients admitted to the ICU for more than two days with people randomly selected from the Japan Medical Data Center database of 6 million inpatient and outpatient health insurance claims between January 2005 and August 2018.
They evaluated data for any visit for heart disease, hospitalization for heart diseases and severe cardiovascular events.
Among 2.1 million people -- or just over 1 million married couples -- more than 7,800 spouses of patients admitted to ICUs were matched with more than 31,000 people randomly selected from the database.
Researchers evaluated data for any visit for heart disease, hospitalization for heart diseases and severe cardiovascular events. Of the people with spouses admitted to the ICU, 2.7% went to the hospital themselves for heart disease-related health problems within one to four week's of their spouse's admission, the data showed.
Just over 2% of those who did not have a spouse in the ICU were admitted to the hospital for heart disease, the researchers said.
In addition, 22% of the people with spouses in the ICU developed high blood pressure in the weeks after, while 23% developed high cholesterol, according to the researchers.
For people without spouses in the ICU, these percentages were slightly lower, at 20% and 22%, the researchers said.
More research is needed to explore if behavior adjustments during this stressful time, such as changes in social ties, living arrangements, eating habits, alcohol consumption and economic support, can help affected family members, they said.
"A patient's admission to ICU puts acute psychological stress on family members, and that stress may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease particularly for the other spouse," Ohbe said.