Research at the University of Portsmouth demonstrates the value of nurses and physiotherapists using “kindness and warmth” to support patients emotional wellbeing after becoming a heart patient.
“Some patients appear to bury their emotions for fear of judgement and to avoid being labelled ‘sick’”
The study, by PHD student Samantha Meredith, highlighted that heart attack patients can experience substantial emotional trauma after medical professionals have finished making them feel better physically.
Subsequently, it was uncovered that cardiac rehabilitation, with the help of nurses, played a “huge role” in helping patients find emotional wellbeing again.
Ms Meredith’s work examines cardiac patients navigating shock and grief, including depression, feelings of loss of control, and a disruption to their understanding of who they thought they were.
The study reports the findings as three fictional stories based on the most common types of emotional trauma seen in cardiac patients over a year, and sees nurses and volunteers supporting patients who are struggling emotionally, by offering “kindness and warmth”.
The year-long ethnographical study outlined how the emotional after-effects of becoming a heart patient can range from a fear of moving in case of raising their heart rates, to difficulties accepting a new identity as someone with a serious health condition.
“Cardiac patients need better support in terms of counselling, identity support, social support and emotionally intelligent care”
A key study finding noted the researchers was that the most common “patient” was an alpha male unable to accept that they were now vulnerable, and or who rejected their “useless” heart, and avoided engaging with the cardiac referral.
Another common theme identified by the study was that patients became so fixated on their heart rate monitor that they’d become “crippled” by the fear of it rising by even a few beats per minute – even when only engaging in very light exercise, such as raising their arms.
For the third story example, the research found some evidence of patients who accepted their cardiac emotional experience but continued to struggle with physical implications.
The study highlighted in these circumstances, ongoing support from cardiac nurses was needed, but nurse time was “stretched” and so subsequently challenged their ability to provide support to their patients.
Speaking about her study, Ms Meredith reiterated that the research saw “substantial emotional trauma following a cardiac event, including ‘cardiophobia’, the fear of elevated heart rate or doing anything strenuous”.
Ms Meredith said: “Cardiac patients need better support in terms of counselling, identity support, social support and emotionally intelligent care to help them find their feet again, following a traumatic experience.
“They also need to talk about their feelings,” she said. “Some patients appear to bury their emotions for fear of judgement and to avoid being labelled ‘sick’. This is particularly true of men, who seemed to see expressing emotion as not masculine.”
She explained how previous research had identified that not being able to accept a serious health experience or a new identity as someone with a life-changing condition could influence the clinical outcomes for a patient.
“For many, their ability or inability to manage and accept this experience and their ‘new’ identity as a patient influenced their clinical outcomes, underlining why it’s so important patients are helped to rebuild emotionally as well as physically,” added Ms Meredith.
She said she hoped her research, published in the journal Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, would help to support patients, their families and clinicians in the future.