New Study: If Your Partner Does This, It Could Be Raising Your Blood Pressure

A recent study across four countries suggests one huge factor for your heart health might just be sitting across the dinner table.

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know that can feel extra challenging when someone in your household is still filling the fridge, cupboards, and their own plate with indulgent foods. New research suggests a similar theme could occur when you’re trying to reach healthier blood pressure levels.

Blood pressure is an essential indicator of heart health, influenced by many factors, including genetics, diet, and exercise. When it rises to unhealthy levels, which is medically referred to as “hypertension,” it’s often called the “silent killer” due to its subtle symptoms. Hypertension significantly increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

December 2023 American Heart Association statistics reveal a concerning trend: From 2017 to 2020, 122.4 million U.S. adults had high blood pressure, contributing to nearly 120,000 deaths in 2020. But there seems to be a surprising twist: Your partner’s role in your blood pressure health.

The co-lead author of a new study, Jithin Sam Varghese, PhD at the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, says a research team’s point of inquiry was to investigate “if many married couples who often have the same interests, living environment, lifestyle habits and health outcomes may also share high blood pressure.” His team’s research results indicate a clear link.

Chihua Li, DrPH, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan and another senior author of the study, notes in a press release, “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.” The researchers’ recent insight, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, suggests that improving blood pressure might require cooperation from couples—not just the individual.

The study’s method

The study explored the health dynamics within couples across four nations: The U.S., England, China, and India. Researchers focused on whether partners mirrored each other’s high blood pressure status. “Ours is the first study examining the union of high blood pressure within couples from both high- and middle-income countries,” Dr. Varghese stated.

The team assessed the blood pressure of 3,989 couples in the U.S., 1,086 in England, 6,514 in China, and 22,389 in India to gain a deeper understanding. These nearly 34,000 couples, defined as either married or partnered heterosexual individuals living together and above the legal marriage age in their respective countries, composed a significant sample of the populations.

The study noted the average ages of men and women across these countries, ranging from 57.2 years in India to 74.2 years in England for husbands and 51.1 years in India to 72.5 years in England for wives. The criteria for high blood pressure were either a systolic blood pressure reading over 140 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) or diastolic above 90 mmHg, as measured by health professionals, or a self-reported history of hypertension.

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The results of the study

The findings were significant: In the U.S., 38% of couples had high blood pressure. Similar patterns were observed in other countries, with 47% in England, 21% in China, and 20% in India.

The study also found that wives were 9% more likely to have high blood pressure if their husbands did in the U.S. and England, with this likelihood increasing to 19% in India and 26% in China. “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,” noted Peiyi Lu, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow in epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Dr. Lu elaborated on the cultural aspects, adding, “In collectivist societies in China and India, couples are expected to depend [on] and support each other, emotionally and instrumentally, so health may be more closely entwined.”

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The bottom line

In light of these results, the pathway to managing high blood pressure may call for a united front between partners. Dr. Li highlights the promising potential of couple-based strategies: You and your spouse could attend medical screenings together, learn health management skills in tandem, and participate jointly in wellness programs…not to mention, embrace healthy meal-planning and exercise. This new blood pressure research may suggest a collaborative effort is necessary to improve one of the most significant modifiable cardiovascular risk factors.

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Dr. Patricia Varacallo, DO
Tricia is a doctor of osteopathy with experience in primary healthcare. She received her medical degree from the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and conducts clinical research in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, as she is motivated by the desire to contribute to the development of innovative treatments and therapies. She is also a certified lifestyle coach for the CDC-recognized National Diabetes Prevention Program, empowering individuals to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes. Dr. Varacallo loves to write— especially about health, wellness, and grief. Drawing from her own experiences of loss and caregiving, she loves to offer support and encouragement to those navigating their own grief journeys. Outside of her professional life, she enjoys traveling and exploring the sunny beaches of Florida with her significant other, always ready for their next adventure.