Spirituality Helps Patients With Heart Failure Fare Better
Living with heart failure can be difficult, but patients grounded in spirituality say their path is easier.
By Kathleen Doheny
Medically Reviewed by Robert Jasmer, MD
Don't Miss This
Sign Up for OurHeart HealthNewsletter
Thanks for signing up!You might also like these other newsletters:
When Myra Robin of Cecilia, Louisiana, learned she had heart failure seven years ago at just age 43, she didn't take the diagnosis well. She was, in her words, obsessed with what was to come. "I started Googling, 'How long do people live with heart failure?'" she says.
She knew that wasn't helping her condition, but she couldn't stop. Her high-pressure sales job in the oil industry was not helping, either. "My doctor had advised me to change my lifestyle to reduce as much stress as possible."
Still, Robin kept searching for information, and kept working at the stressful job.
Then, everything changed. Raised Catholic, she went to Mass one Sunday as usual. That day turned out to be a pivotal point: Robin scanned the bulletin, saw that her parish was looking for a secretary, and applied. She got the job, which was much less stressful than her sales job. She also thought back to the reading at that Mass. The message was: "Don’t obsess about the future, because we really can't control it."
"I gave up all my worries about the heart failure," Robin says, and she began trusting in a higher power and relying on spirituality to get her through. "To me, spirituality means doing what you feel is right in your heart," she says.
She's doing well, adding that she's probably one of the most compliant patients ever. "I take my medicines exactly as I'm supposed to," she says.
Not all heart failure patients can say the same. Doctors are aware that for all conditions, medication adherence is a big problem even though new, improved medications are credited with keeping patients healthier longer. And medicines only work if they're taken as directed.
In recent years, some experts have focused on a new solution for the compliance problem, and it's not a new pill box or a spouse who nags; it's spirituality. The more spiritual patients are, the more likely they are to take medication for heart failure correctly — and the more likely they are to thrive.
Spirituality and Heart Failure: What the Research Says
Spirituality does help heart failure patients do better, says Paul J. Mills, PhD, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, who has researched the topic.
The secret? Spirituality leads to gratitude, he says.
While spirituality has many definitions, Mills defines it as ''connectiveness, primarily with yourself. But if you have it with yourself, you also have it with those around you.'' That connection, he says, leads to more gratitude with a positive effect on health.
In his study published in 2015 inSpirituality in Clinical Practice, results from 186 men and women with heart failure showed that gratitude stemming from spirituality was linked with better sleep, better mood, and lower levels of inflammation. A patient’s inflammation levels are significant because inflammation can often worsen heart failure.
Spirituality is often described as how people seek and express meaning and purpose in their lives, along with how they experience a connection to present time, themselves, and others, says doctor Juglans Alvarez, a cardiologist at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, who has studied the impact of spirituality on heart failure patients.
In a study published in June 2019 inBrazil Archives of Cardiology, he gauged the level of spirituality in 131 heart failure patients and found that the more spirituality they felt, the better they were at sticking to their medicine. The study didn’t prove cause and effect, but Alvarez speculates that those who are more spiritual feel more connected to themselves, their loved ones, and the world in general — and that means they take better care of themselves.
"As these people have higher levels of deeper meaning, purpose, and harmony, that would reflect in better self-care," he says.
Alvarez also found that the combination of spirituality, being religious, and having positive personal beliefs worked together to improve adherence to medicine and other treatments.
RELATED:The Real Monthly Costs of Heart Failure
Hope and Heart Failure: Eileen and Patrick’s Stories
People can develop their spirituality, according to Mills. One simple way is by journaling what you're grateful for. In his research, Mills found that those who kept gratitude journals for eight weeks showed less inflammation and improved heart health.
Eileen Dreczka, 52, of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, was diagnosed with heart failure in 2005 and is doing well because of her spirituality, she says, which she calls her ''tool chest of hope."
"Without hope," she says, “you have nothing. I'm also grateful to be here." Besides developing her spirituality with meditation and yoga, she often writes in her journal about the frustrations of a bad day and letting go.
Feeling connected is crucial, too. Dreczka is a WomenHeart Champion, one of 750 women with heart disease selected by WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, to share heart health information with others by speaking and helping those newly diagnosed to cope.
Patrick Sullivan, 61, of Boston — cofounder of the Heart Brothers Foundation — remembers with vivid detail the day he discovered the power of spirituality. He was scheduled for an interim procedure to help his heart failure while he remained on a waiting list for a heart transplant. When the surgeon came into his hospital room, Sullivan was expecting a briefing on the procedure.
Instead, the doctor told him they had found a heart. The transplant was done later that day. "That made me 100 percent convinced there is a higher power watching over each one of us," he says.
His definition of spirituality? "You look at every opportunity to see the good in things," he says.
Video: Helping people uninterested in Spirituality | Insights from the Master
Holiday Hairstyles: My Roundup of the Hottest Looks
How Dry I Am: Day-to-Day Life With Sjogrens Syndrome
How to Homeschool in the 21st Century (For All Types of Parents Kids)
How to Deal With Being Dumped when You Want to Remain Friends
Heres what science has to say about morning vs night showers
Study Says The Health Benefits Of Coffee Include A Longer Life
Workout like a Victorias Secret model with ballet fitness training
Honey Boo Boo Reportedly Cast on Special Junior Season of Dancing With The Stars
How to Write a Self Evaluation
How to Buy Books for Your Kindle