Health Smarts for Healthier Hearts

Health literacy may affect survival after heart failure

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The more you know about health, the longer you might live.

That's the takeaway from a new study that found that patients with less health knowledge had a raised risk of death after being hospitalized for acute heart failure.

Heart failure affects around 6 million Americans, said the authors of this study. Weight and diet may play a role in outcomes, and proper self-care is essential.

"Self-care is a vital component of chronic heart failure management, particularly following hospitalization," wrote lead study author Candace D. McNaughton, MD, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, and colleagues. "Health literacy is closely tied to skills necessary for effective self-care of chronic heart failure, including monitoring weight, salt, and fluid intake ..."

Sandeep Singh, MD, a board-certified internist and cardiologist at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital, offered advice to patients who have been hospitalized with heart failure.

"I always advise patients to have another family member or friend present at the hospital discharge," Dr. Singh told dailyRx News. "This person can write down any instructions that are given to the patient. Since people tend to forget important details when dealing with such a stressful event, it’s helpful to have another person there to capture the instructions in writing."

Dr. Singh said patients should ask their doctors several questions during hospital discharge. These include asking about a follow-up appointment, symptoms and signs to look for while at home, whether heart rehabilitation programs are available and any limits on exercise, diet, sex and work.

This study looked at 1,379 patients who had been hospitalized for acute heart failure.

These patients answered a survey to measure their health literacy. Patients who said they were informed about their health had high health literacy. Those with little health knowledge had low health literacy.

Patients with low health literacy had a 32 percent higher risk of death than those with high health literacy, Dr. McNaughton and team found. These results appeared unaffected by education, age, sex, race, health insurance status, length of hospital stay and other factors.

Dr. McNaughton and colleagues said low health literacy can lead to death if patients "receive healthcare instructions and prescription regimens that are complex, difficult to understand and implement, limiting their ability to successfully achieve outpatient disease control."

These researchers went on to warn that "these patients may also have difficulty communicating with healthcare providers, navigating the health care system, recognizing signs of health decline, and knowing when and who to contact when they do become ill."

This study was published April 29 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded this research. Study author Dr. Alan B. Storrow was a consultant for Roche, Novartis, Alere, Trevena, and Beckman Coulter.

Review Date: 
April 28, 2015
Last Updated:
May 5, 2015