A recent study that appears in the July/August 2009 issue of Heart and Lung affirms in a broad sense what anyone in a committed relationship, particularly a marriage, already knows from experience: one spouse’s mental or physical health ailments can, and often do, tax the other spouse.
This study is particularly concerned with the implications of this dynamic when one spouse has some form of heart failure (HF), a chronic progressive condition that occurs when the heart muscle can’t pump enough blood through the heart to meet the body’s blood and oxygen demand.
Studies have already shown that HF patients who suffer from depression, anxiety or anger issues are likely to have more difficulty coping with HF symptoms and complying with treatment. However, little had been done until now to better understand how a patient’s distress affects a spouse’s health and vice versa.
The population for this relatively small study consisted of 60 patients with confirmed diagnoses of HF (43 men/17 women) and their opposite-sex spouses, all ranging in age from 36-83 with mean ages in the mid-60s. Clinicians visited couples’ homes, interviewing them separately and together and then concluding with a ten-minute video interview of the couple. A follow-up phone interview with each patient and spouse was conducted six months later.
The study found that a spouse’s distress had substantially greater impact on the HF patient’s overall health and the course of the patient’s illness than the reverse scenario. Considering the fact that 5.7 million Americans have HF and well over half a million new cases are diagnosed each year, this is concerning.
Spouses of HF patients should take heed and be proactive about their own mental and physical health issues so that they do not put the already ailing hearts of their partners in even greater jeopardy.
For more information on heart failure, including different types, warning signs, treatment options and personal accounts, the American Heart Association is one of many valuable resources on the Web.
Work Cited: Rohrbaugh, Michael J. et al.