Columbia University Medical Center

Family Cardiac Caregivers May Have Higher Heart Disease Risk

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – (March 12, 2008) Being a caregiver for a family member recently hospitalized with heart disease can affect the caregiver’s mental health – and possibly the caregiver’s own heart health, according to research presented today. Researchers found these results when studying psychological strain and depression in people who provided most or all of a patient’s care.

Lori Mosca, M.D.
Researchers examined heart risk factors in family members of cardiac patients and found that those who provided all or most of a patient’s care had higher levels of risk factors for heart disease than non-caregivers – and those who reported higher caregiver strain after six months were more likely to be depressed than those who provided less or no care.
Lori Mosca, M.D., professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, presented these findings at the American Heart Association’s 48th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, in Colorado. Dr. Mosca’s study is part of the ongoing National Institutes of Health-sponsored Family Intervention Trial of Heart Health (FIT Heart), for which Dr. Mosca is the principal investigator.

For FIT Heart, researchers recruited 501 family members or co-habitants of patients hospitalized for cardiac events. Six months later, researchers determined the approximate time each spent as a caregiver, and assessed their lifestyles, psychological strain and whether they were depressed.

Caregivers who reported the highest levels of depression and the lowest levels of social support at baseline had the highest level of caregiver strain reported at six months, Mosca said. Because stress and depression can raise the risk of heart disease, caregivers need also to care for themselves, such as being sure to engage in regular physical activity, she said.

Researchers hypothesized also that family members of a hospitalized heart patient might think at the time about their own risk of cardiac disease. If so, “this is a motivational moment and a unique opportunity to educate them, and help them lower their risks,” Dr. Mosca added.

To reach Dr. Mosca at the ongoing AHA conference, or to talk with her about heart disease risks and treatment, please contact Alex Lyda, above.

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Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, nurses, dentists, and public health professionals at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Established in 1767, Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons was the first institution in the country to grant the M.D. degree. Among the most selective medical schools in the country, the school is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York State and one of the largest in the United States. For more information, please visit www.cumc.columbia.edu.