People who have suffered a heart attack are much more likely to experience a healthy recovery if they have an optimistic attitude, new research has shown.
The study found that the most positive patients are half as likely to suffer another heart attack, require surgery or die in the four years after a heart attack, than those who displayed the most pessimistic attitude.
While a link between an optimistic outlook on life and better heart health is well-established, the impact of a patient’s attitude after suffering a heart attack or other serious cardiovascular problem was not known until now.
A number of factors could like behind the link, said experts from University College London (UCL) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which backed the study. More optimistic patients were less likely to persist with unhealthy behaviours like smoking, and more likely to adopt healthier diets.
UCL’s Professor Andrew Steptoe, who led the study said: “Optimistic people are more likely to take advice about lifestyle changes on board. This results in better outcomes after a patient suffers from unstable angina or a heart attack.
“Our findings could be used to identify pessimistic patients and encourage them to make the necessary changes to their lifestyle that can ultimately lead to better health.”
The study, which looked at 369 patients, followed up over four years, is published in the journal Psychomatic Medicine.
Patients were asked to take part in questionnaires that assigned them an optimism score based on how strongly they agreed with statements such as: "In uncertain times, I usually expect the best."
It found that half of the most pessimistic patients were still smoking one year after a heart attack, compared to 85 per cent of the most optimistic group, who had quit entirely one year on.
Similarly, 40 per cent of the most optimistic patients were eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day after one year, compared to only 20 per cent in the most pessimistic group.
Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF, said that the next step would be to prove that psychological support could improve the chances of more pessimistic patients having a good recovery.
“Suffering from a serious condition like angina or heart attack can take a drastic emotional toll, which we know can lead to depression, further lowering the chances of a full recovery after a heart attack,” he said. “If you’re living with a heart condition and struggling to cope, we would urge you to contact your GP who can put you in touch with the necessary support.”Reuse content