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Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
Couples share same diseases
Married couples may share the same disease
Married couples may share the same disease
Married couples are at high risk of both suffering the same disease, researchers have found.

Researchers were not looking at infections, but at conditions such as asthma and depression.

They say the explanation could be that couples share the same environment.

The researchers, from the division of general practice at University of Nottingham, say their findings could have implications for screening spouses and taking action to treat the condition.


Screening spouses for some diseases should be considered

Dr Julia Hippisley-Cox
GPs first noticed the phenomenon when they spotted a high number of married couples were attending blood pressure clinics at one GP surgery together and both partners had high readings.

They decided to examine if the pattern was more widespread.

The researchers looked at whether people whose spouses suffered depression or asthma were also at an increased risk of suffering from the same disease.

Over 8,000 married couples aged between 30 and 74 took part.

The researchers found that after the couples' ages, obesity and smoking status had been taken into account, the partners of people with asthma, depression or peptic ulcer disease were 70% more likely to suffer from the same disease themselves.

Increased risk

Those married to people with excess cholesterol in the blood were also more likely to suffer from the same condition as their spouse.

The Nottingham team said the similarities were most likely to be due to the couples living in the same environment, putting them at a similar risk.

High blood pressure and excess cholesterol could be linked to the couple's diet and exercise habits.

They may also share the same attitudes towards healthcare and seeking health advice.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers led by Dr Julia Hippisley-Cox, wrote: "The high increased risks of disease within married couples support the idea that shared environmental factors in addition to genetic or distant exposures contribute to the development of disease.

'Treat the family'

Dr Hippisley-Cox told BBC News Online: "The asthma link suggests exposure to the same allergens.

"Depression could be due to shared social circumstances, or people who are predisposed to depression tending towards others with a predisposition.

"With peptic ulcers, it could be that they have a shared risk of infection."

Dr Hippisley-Cox added: "Screening spouses for some diseases should be considered.

"If someone's diagnosed with high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, it might be that their partner should have those tests done as well.

Lifestyle

"And when you look at assessing interventions, you might be able to direct it at the family rather than the individual."

Belinda Linden, head of medical information at the British Heart Foundation, said: "There is likely to be a strong association between the shared environment and chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease that are strongly influenced by lifestyle factors.

"Sharing a home environment means that partners may well have similar diet, physical activity and smoking patterns so that if one develops CHD the other has a similar risk of developing the disease.

He added: "This research again reiterates the importance of clear lifestyle messages, a healthy home environment, and the importance of a partners support when making healthy lifestyle changes."

See also:

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