Get personal to improve heart health

February 23, 2009

Scare tactics may not be necessary when trying to get patients at risk of heart disease to change their diet or behaviour, a new study has found. Instead, doctors and nurses should be aware of the stage of life their patients are at, and offer them very specific and targeted advice.

"The goal is to produce interventions which are sensitive to the lives and social position of those who find themselves at 'high risk' of coronary heart disease (CHD) in later-middle age, and which inspire change rather than inhibit it," say researchers, from Egenis, the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society at the University of Exeter.

High-risk patients will often downgrade their risk in their own minds, yet could still be receptive to the behavioural change which is the purpose of CHD screening, explained Dr Hannah Farrimond, who studied the reaction of patients to being told they were at high risk. Boosting patients' sense of vulnerability does not help, and may even hinder, their efforts to change, the study found.

"Once patients have got over the shock of being at high risk of heart disease, they then tend to underplay their risk," says Dr Farrimond. "They compare themselves favourably with, say, others of the same age. In the past, researchers have thought we need to scare people into feeling at risk to make them change. This study suggests that even those who downplayed their risk still made changes, such as taking statins or exercising more. In other words, we don't need to scare people to get results. Clinical staff need to find other ways of encouraging patients to make the necessary lifestyle changes, such as offering personalised advice."

The findings of Dr Farrimond's paper 'Making sense of being at 'high risk' of coronary heart disease', are published in the current issue of the journal Psychology and Health.

Current NHS policy advocates screening in primary care to identify 'high risk' individuals for coronary heart disease (CHD), particularly targeting those with family histories of the disease, through schemes such as the new, free 'health MOT' campaign. Until now, there has been little research looking at how people respond to such heart disease screening, particularly in relation to their age and stage of life. This study investigated the impact of the screening on the patients involved by interviewing 38 of them immediately after their intervention, looking particularly at how the age and stage of life of the participants affected their reactions.

More information: 'Making sense of being at 'high risk' of heart disease' is published in the journal Psychology and Health. The article is currently available online at:

Source: University of Exeter

Explore further: Gravity, who needs it? NASA studies your body in space

Related Stories

Gravity, who needs it? NASA studies your body in space

November 18, 2015

What happens to your body in space? NASA's Human Research Program has been unfolding answers for over a decade. Space is a dangerous, unfriendly place. Isolated from family and friends, exposed to radiation that could increase ...

Human gene prevents regeneration in zebrafish

November 18, 2015

Regenerative medicine could one day allow physicians to correct congenital deformities, regrow damaged fingers, or even mend a broken heart. But to do it, they will have to reckon with the body's own anti-cancer security ...

It's not a lack of self-control that keeps people poor

September 22, 2015

When considering poverty, our national conversation tends to overlook systemic causes. Instead, we often blame the poor for their poverty. Commentators echo the claim that people are poor because they have bad self-control ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.