Poor health literacy increases mortality risk in heart patients

PATIENTS with heart failure who have poor health literacy face an increased risk of hospitalisation and death.

Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure found that patients who struggled with the complex self-management required for the chronic condition faced the highest risk.

Heart failure requires patients to undertake extensive self-care, including monitoring weight and blood pressure, controlling glycaemia, sticking to drug and diet guidelines, and occasionally losing weight and exercise.

The study highlighted the need for doctors to be alert to those who may be experiencing difficulties in understanding health information, and to offer extra advice and support.

Researchers in the study sought to determine the effect of health literacy on mortality, on hospitalisations and emergency department (ED) visits among heart failure patients. It is said to be the first meta-analysis of its kind.

Amongst heart failure patients with low health literacy, the unadjusted risk of all three factors was found to be 67 per cent higher compared to other patients. In adjusted analyses, poor health literacy was still a significant factor in mortality and hospitalisation, but no correlation was found for ED visits.

One of the study’s authors Professor Lila J Finney Rutten said: "Identifying health literacy as a factor that affects health outcomes and measuring its effect on patients with heart failure is essential to allocate more resources for, and research on, interventions to improve health literacy."

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