Most heart attack victims delay going to hospital because of a belief in fate, according to a University of St Andrews study.
Professor Ronan O’Carroll, who questioned heart attack patients at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, found that those who felt they had little control over their destiny were more likely to be admitted to hospital at least four hours after their attack, compared with patients who believed they could take charge of their health.
The study quizzed 72 patients about their attitudes towards their health and measured the time between a doctor’s estimate of when the heart attack took place and the patient’s arrival at hospital. Anything longer than four hours was considered to be a delayed admission.
Based in the School of Psychology, Professor O’Carroll found the major difference between delayed and prompt attenders was whether they felt their health was down to chance, while other factors such as age, sex or whether the patient had suffered a heart attack before did not appear to have an effect.
Professor O’Carroll said, “We asked patients if they endorsed items such as ‘if it’s meant to be, I will stay healthy’ and ‘no matter what I do, if I am going to get sick, I will get sick’, and found that these fatalistic views were a major factor in delaying treatment. We were surprised by the findings because other things, such as if they had a heart attack before, or if the heart attack was witnessed, did not seem to have a significant effect. Such fatalistic beliefs in health and health outcomes may have fatal consequences, given that the quicker drugs are given to break up the clot that caused the heart attack, the more effective the treatment is likely to be.”
A possible explanation as to why patients took longer to go to hospital could also be that some were unaware that they were having a heart attack. Around a third suspected heartburn, while others thought that what they were experiencing was due to the flu. Of the 72 patients questioned, 48 attended hospital within four hours, while 24 were admitted after this time.
Professor O’Carroll, “What we would now like to see is if the findings can be replicated in another centre and also whether the attitude towards fate, and whether health can be put down to chance, can be modified in people who have already experienced a heart attack.”
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