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Heart Disease Health Center

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Pessimism Deadly for Heart Patients?

Outlook Affects Survival, Study Shows, So Look on the Bright Side
WebMD Health News

March 13, 2008 -- Keeping a positive attitude is good for your health, and if you are a heart patient it just may save your life, new research suggests.

A study of patients with heart disease followed for six to 10 years found that those with pessimistic beliefs about their recovery were twice as likely to die during that timeframe as those who felt more optimistic.

The research was presented this week in Baltimore at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, a group dedicated to the research of the interaction between the mind and body.

"This study is one of the first to examine how a patient's attitude toward their disease affects their health over the long term, and ultimately their survival," says lead researcher John C. Barefoot, PhD.

Mind and Body Connection

Barefoot, Redford B. Williams, MD, and colleagues from Duke University Medical Center conducted psychological assessments on 2,825 patients hospitalized for heart disease.

The patients were asked to describe their expectations about their ability to recover from their illness and regain a normal life.

During six to 10 years of follow-up, 978 of the patients died, with 66% dying of heart disease.

Patient expectations about their disease course were highly related to survival, with patients who had the most pessimistic views dying at twice the rate of those who were most optimistic.

After controlling for factors that could influence survival, including disease severity, functional status, and depression, the death rate among the most pessimistic patients was still 30% higher than the most optimistic, Williams tells WebMD.

"Negative outlook was an independent predictor of poor outcomes," he says. "And there seems to be something protective about having a more optimistic attitude that makes you feel that you are going to be OK."

He says patients with positive expectations may be more likely to make lifestyle changes and follow treatment regimens prescribed by their doctors.

The Impact of Stress

Another possible explanation is that positive thoughts may lessen the damaging effects of stress on the body.

A separate study presented by the Duke researchers at the Baltimore meeting examined this theory.

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