1 of 2 | New research from the American Heart Association reveals that many spouses or partners in heterosexual relationships also may have a dangerous health problem in common -- high blood pressure. Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse (@alicekat/Wikimedia Commons
NEW YORK, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Many people believe that couples who have stayed together for years start to resemble each other, speak the same way and adopt similar habits.
Now, new research from the American Heart Association reveals that many spouses or partners in heterosexual relationships also may have a dangerous health problem in common -- high blood pressure.
A multinational study looking at middle-aged and older heterosexual couples in the United States, England, China and India was published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
In 20% to 47% of the couples, both spouses or partners had high blood pressure. The prevalence of both spouses or partners who had the condition was the most significant in England and the United States.
In this country, among more than 35% of couples age 50 or older, both had high blood pressure.
However, people whose spouses or partners age 50 or older had high blood pressure were more likely to also have it in China and India.
Researchers recommend couple-based interventions to improve high blood pressure diagnosis and management, such as couple-based screening, skills training or joint participation in treatment programs.
"The study is motivated by a common phenomenon that many married couples share interests, live in the same environment and have similar lifestyle habits and health outcomes," said the study's senior author and corresponding author, Chihua Li.
"We are particularly interested in hypertension because it is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions, and it can cause other health conditions like kidney disease, heart disease and stroke, Li, a research fellow at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, told UPI via email.
"The prevention and management of hypertension at population level will substantially reduce public health burden as population rapidly age in the globe."
Researchers analyzed blood pressure measures for 3,989 U.S. couples, 1,086 British couples, 6,514 Chinese couples and 22,389 Indian couples.
They found that the prevalence of both spouses or partners who had high blood pressure was about 47% in England, 38% in the United States, 21% in China and 20% in India.
Compared to wives married to husbands without high blood pressure, wives whose husbands had high blood pressure were 9% more likely to have high blood pressure in the United States and England, 19% more likely in India and 26% more likely in China.
Within each nation, the researchers observed similar associations for husbands. The association held steady when the analyses were stratified by area of residence within each country, household wealth, length of marriage, age groups and education levels.
The authors recommend "behavioral interventions that harness the influence of close relationships on health," noting that they "can play an important role in improving efficiency of illness management," Li said.
"In our study context, instead of focusing on individuals, health professionals may invite patients and their spouses/partners to screen for hypertension, develop a joint treatment plan for both members and encourage them to manage the disease together as a unit. Our findings encourage married couples to seek out health care guidance as a pair."
However, Li acknowledged that the study had some weaknesses. It used blood pressure readings from only one point in time because the researchers had one set of data available from India. As a result, they identified people with high blood pressure measured only once during the interview.
"When more data is collected over time, we can look at how couples' hypertension status changes," Li said. "Normally, doctors recommend checking blood pressure more than once, with tests spaced one to four weeks apart."
Hypertension is so prevalent among spouses that the study's finding of "dual hypertension couples" may occur due to chance, Dr. James Powers, a professor of medicine and a geriatrician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, told UPI in a telephone interview.
Even so, "It's an intriguing study, no question about it, and it suggests some novel ways to help treat blood pressure," Powers said, suggesting that couples work together to make lifestyle changes that incorporate diet and exercise -- even grocery shopping and meal preparation -- into their joint routine.
"If we could do it as a couple or a family, it gives the hope that we could achieve better success," he said. "It's a new strategy for treatment."
Dr. Richard Marottoli, a professor of medicine and a geriatrician at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., told UPI in a telephone interview that long-term couples may indeed have similar interests, lifestyles and diets that could affect their blood pressure in similar ways.
This means that interventions -- whether aimed at reducing alcohol use or lowering dietary sodium or fat -- may be easier to accomplish when both spouses or partners are striving to change old behaviors.
"It gives them a common goal, an added incentive," Marottoli said. One downside, though, is that particularly in the United States, the spouses or partners may not have the same clinician to guide them through the process.
Dr. Gregory Hall, an internal medicine physician and medical director of University Hospitals Cutler Center for Men in Beachwood, Ohio, told UPI via email that he has encountered many married couples who share high blood pressure.
"Hypertension is very widespread, so checking your blood pressure at home as a family is a great way to see yours and your spouse's status," said Hall, who advises patients against sharing blood pressure medications when a spouse runs out because it throws off refills, pharmacy records and insurance tracking.
"Certainly, if your spouse gets high blood pressure, you should be vigilant to stay on top of your own blood pressure," Hall said. "Check any offspring, as well, because if both parents have hypertension, the odds of the adult children getting it are very high."