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High blood pressure is commonly shared by couples worldwide

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has found that partners and spouses tend to have blood pressure that mirrors one another, particularly in heterosexual relationships

The research included middle-aged and older couples from the United States, England, China, and India. The results revealed that between 20 and 47 percent of these couples both had high blood pressure. 

Notably, this trend was most prevalent in England and the U.S. but showed a stronger association in China and India, where cultural factors may lead to couples influencing each other’s health more significantly.

High incidence rates 

Study senior author Dr. Chihua Li from the University of Michigan said the team was surprised by the results. 

“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 Dr. Li. 

“For instance, in the U.S., among more than 35% of couples who were ages 50 or older, both had high blood pressure.”

Focus of the study

Study co-lead author Dr. Jithin Sam Varghese is an assistant research professor at the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta.

“Ours is the first study examining the union of high blood pressure within couples from both high- and middle-income countries,” said Dr. Varghese.

“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.”

The analysis was focused on a large sample size, involving thousands of couples across the four countries. 

Key insights

In England, almost half of the couples studied both had high blood pressure, with significant percentages in the U.S., China, and India as well. 

The researchers also found that spouses of individuals with high blood pressure were more likely to have the condition themselves, with this likelihood varying across the countries.

Cultural differences 

“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,” said study co-lead author Dr. Peiyi Lu of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

“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.”

“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.”

Health interventions 

The findings suggest that couple-based health interventions, such as joint screening and treatment programs, could be more effective in managing high blood pressure.

“Varghese, Lu and colleagues report an important finding among middle-aged and older adults – if your spouse has hypertension, you are more likely to have hypertension, too,” said Bethany Barone Gibbs from West Virginia University.

“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.”

Lifestyle changes 

Gibbs emphasized the importance of lifestyle changes within the family unit for effective blood pressure management. 

She said that 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 sustain if your spouse or partner is not making changes with you.

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