Health Literacy Not a Predictor of a Healthy Heart

Patient education may not mean adept self management of heart failure symptoms

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Some heart patients may be highly educated and understand recommended treatments. However, they do not appear to do any better at managing their own care related to heart failure as compared to less-educated patients.

Many of the study participants held advanced degrees and were health literate -- able to read and understand health information -- but still did not do a better job of managing symptoms.

"Don't neglect heart failure symptoms."

Karen S. Yehle, an assistant professor of nursing who specializes in cardiovascular conditions at Purdue University, said she is uncertain why more educated patients don't better manage their care, though it could be because less educated patients have more symptoms so they are more familiar with treatments.

She said the finding is a reminder to health care professionals to provide clear instructions and information to patients, even if they don't think particular patients need it.

During the study, researchers monitored 49 heart failure patients, scrutinizing their daily self-care, including adherence to a low sodium diet, taking medications and management of symptoms such as weight gain, leg swelling and shortness of breath.

Investigators found that that health literacy was associated with daily care and management of heart failure, but such patients appeared to have difficulty responding to heart failure symptoms. Higher educated patients instead were better at day-today symptom management when there were no condition-related symptoms.

"Heart failure is a very complicated condition in that the daily behaviors must be followed or the patient will develop symptoms, and if the symptoms are triggered and the patient does not manage them well, they are often hospitalized," said Kimberly S. Plake, an associate professor of pharmacy who specializes in patient behavior and adherence at Purdue University.

A similar, larger study of heart failure patients and their self care routines is planned to study long-term behaviors.

The article was published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.

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Review Date: 
December 15, 2011
Last Updated:
December 19, 2011