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Heartsick: When Loved One Is in ICU, Spouse's Health Risks Rise
  • Robert Preidt
  • Posted October 5, 2020

Heartsick: When Loved One Is in ICU, Spouse's Health Risks Rise

If your husband or wife is hospitalized in intensive care, you're more likely to have a heart attack or other serious heart problem in the next few weeks, a new study warns.

"Spouses of ICU patients should pay attention to their own physical health, especially in terms of cardiovascular disease," said senior author Dr. Hiroyuki Ohbe, a Ph.D. student in the School of Public Health at the University of Tokyo.

Researchers analyzed data from a large Japanese database to compare more than 7,800 spouses of patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) for more than two days with a random group of more than 31,000 others.

The average age of the spouses was 54 and 65% were women.

Compared to others, those with a spouse in the ICU had increased odds of an event such as chest pain, heart attack, stroke, irregular heart rhythm, heart failure or a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism) within a month.

The spouses also had a higher risk of being hospitalized for heart disease and severe heart events, according to the study published Oct. 5 in the journal Circulation.

Researchers described the study as the first to suggest that having a spouse in the ICU may put people at risk in this way.

"The ICU can be a stressful environment with significant caregiving burdens, and spouses may face tough decisions about continuing or ending life-sustaining treatment," Ohbe noted. "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."

More research is needed to confirm the findings and to assess whether changes in living arrangements, eating habits, alcohol consumption and economic support play a role in this increased risk.

More information

The Society of Critical Care Medicine has more on critical care medicine.

SOURCE: Circulation, news release, Oct. 5, 2020
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