People with chronic heart failure who fail to accept their illness have a poorer quality of life, a new study has found.
Heart failure is a potentially life-threatening condition which leads to the heart being unable to pump enough blood around the body. Around 20 million people are affected worldwide, including some 90,000 in Ireland.
Symptoms include tiredness, shortness of breath, dizziness and swollen ankles.
According to Polish researchers, people with chronic heart failure ‘often feel powerless and hopeless' and this can interfere with their treatment.
"Acceptance of illness refers to the ability of patients to adapt to life with a disease. Patients who accept their illness are more likely to comply with treatment and therefore should have a higher quality of life. To our knowledge this is the first study to examine the association between acceptance of illness and quality of life in patients with chronic heart failure," noted the study's lead author, nurse Monika Obieglo, of Wroclaw Medical University.
The study monitored 100 patients with heart failure for at least six months. The participants' acceptance of their illness was measured using a recognised scale - this determined how well they had adapted to having the condition. Their quality of life was also assessed.
The study found that those with a low acceptance of their condition scored much worse on six quality of life pointers - mobility, energy, pain, sleep, emotional reactions and social isolation.
"We found that patients who did not accept their disease more often had lower energy, more severe pain, negative emotional reactions, sleep disorders and limited mobility, and were more socially isolated," explained Ms Obieglo.
She insisted that for treatment to be successful, people must accept their illness.
"Each patient reacts differently to chronic illness - some accept their condition while others are unable to cope with the situation. The ability to accept a disease is related to the patient's personality, psychological state, socioeconomic status, severity of the illness, treatment used, and support from family and friends. Patients who can accept their illness are more eager to participate in their treatment and are more likely to comply," she said.
The researchers believe that when patients are diagnosed with a chronic condition, they ‘must redefine themselves as someone who is chronically ill'.
"Without accepting this, they will not think any of the medical recommendations are needed," they pointed out.
They suggested that talking to other patients with the same condition and hearing how they cope with it ‘may help some patients to accept that they are ill'.
"Identifying patients with chronic heart failure who do not accept their illness is vital to the effectiveness of treatment. Education programmes are needed for patients and families to help them understand the nature of the illness, symptoms, treatment methods, and how to take control of their health," the researchers added.
Details of these findings are published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.