A Helping Hand Could Save An Ailing Heart

October 08, 1997

You might be able to save the life of someone with coronary artery disease simply by extending a helping hand.

New research suggests that patients with coronary artery disease have a better chance of long-term survival if they believe they have adequate help when needed from family and friends in performing daily tasks such as bathing or taking medications.

Researchers Steven Woloshin, MD, and colleagues at the White River Junction (VT) Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, found that "inadequate tangible support was a significant predictor of death and greater functional deterioration" among patients who had suffered a heart attack in the previous year. Their findings are published in the October 1997 Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Previous studies have demonstrated links between social support structures - such as marital status, social networks, and membership in a church or other group - and the onset, progression and management of a variety of conditions, including heart disease. This is the first study to show an important relationship between both mortality and functional status and whether the patient believes he or she is receiving adequate help from others in performing daily activities.

In 1993 the researchers surveyed 820 patients in Canada?s Manitoba Province who had survived a heart attack during the previous 8 to 22 months. They asked whether the patients thought they needed more help because of their illness and, if so, whether they were receiving the help they needed. They surveyed them again a year later to determine health status.

After adjusting for age and initial health status, those who had felt they needed more help were 3.2 times more likely to have died during that year than those who had said they did not need any help. Those who had said they needed much more help were 6.5 times more likely to have died. Both groups that felt they were not receiving sufficient help also showed declining physical function.

While the researchers allow that a person's perceived needs may sometimes be based upon their degree of illness, they suggest that determining a patient's or friend's prognosis may be as simple as asking, "Are you getting the support you need?"

The Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM), a monthly peer-reviewed journal and the official journal of the Society of General Internal Medicine, publishes original articles on research and education in primary care. For more information about JGIM, contact: Margo Alderton, (215) 823-4471.

Dr. Woloshin may be contacted at (802) 296-5178.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health . For information about the Center, call Richard Hébert at (202) 387-2829, or by e-mail: rhebert@cfah.org.

Center for Advancing Health

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