Sep. 11, 1997 Health professionals say that smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are three risk factors for heart disease that people can help reduce. But a study, published in the March-April issue of Heart & Lung, found that many patients with heart ailments do not recognize these factors as causing their own problems.
In the study, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Rochester and Monroe Community College asked 105 patients who were hospitalized after a first heart attack, or for a coronary angiography (an x-ray procedure used to identify sites of narrowing or blockage in arteries) after having been diagnosed as having coronary artery disease, to describe what they believed were the contributing factors to their heart disease.
Although 79 percent of the patients named at least one of the three modifiable risk factors -- smoking, hypertension and high cholesterol levels -- only 7 percent identified all three.
Patients known to have risk factors varied in their recognition of those risks as a cause of their heart disease. Only 15 percent of patients with high blood pressure recognized high blood pressure as a cause, while 64 percent of smokers recognized smoking as a cause of their heart disease.
And many of the patients, 13 percent, were unsure whether heart disease is a chronic disease. Another 28 percent believed the situation would be short term.
"We have assumed that people make links between risk factors and their own heart disease," says lead researcher Julie Zerwic, assistant professor of medical-surgical nursing at UIC. "But we found that despite general knowledge about coronary artery disease, individuals with known risk factors continue to be largely ignorant of their personal risks and, to some extent, of the course of the disease."
Zerwic says these findings have serious implications for prevention and treatment of heart disease.
"If people don't recognize the risk factors, they are less likely to seek treatment for symptoms," she said. "Educational pamphlets are not doing the job. Health care professionals need to do more one-on-one education and tell each patient, ‘Here's your situation, and here's what you need to do.'"
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