Strong hearts for two

Jim and Priscilla Russell of Grand Prairie, Texas, might be taking togetherness too far.

While he was in the emergency room being treated for a heart attack, she was outside having one of her own. The couple, who have been married 27 years, reunited in the cardiac catheterization lab and were admitted to Texas Health Resources Arlington Memorial Hospital.

“They put us in the same room together,” said Priscilla Russell, now 79.

Six years, a triple bypass, one aortic valve and a pacemaker later, they’re both healthy.

The timing of their heart events is unusual, but that they both have cardiac disease is not. New research confirms what physicians have suspected: If one spouse has coronary risk factors, the other is more likely to have them.

In a report published last month in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that couples often share risk factors such as smoking, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, stress and weight. The researchers reviewed 71 studies involving 100,000 couples and found that shared risk factors – most notably smoking and body mass index – could be attributed to their environment and lifestyle. They also speculated that people are attracted to mates like themselves.

“People tend to pick spouses that have the same lifestyle,” said Dr. Vinit Lal, medical director of cardiology at Arlington Memorial Hospital in Arlington, Texas. “If the husband is a smoker, the wife tends to be one, too.”

The observation holds true at Arlington Memorial’s cardiac rehabilitation center, where at least 15 couples who have been treated for heart disease work out together, said Brenda Doughty, R.N. program coordinator.

“We hear a lot that they have the same diet and often both are on cholesterol medications,” she said. “If one is overweight, it’s very likely the other is also.”