Positive attitude lowers the risk of further heart attack, surgery and death for heart patients

5 March 2015        

Man gets chest pain

Scientists that we funded at University College London have revealed that an optimistic attitude can dramatically lower the risk of a subsequent heart attack, surgery and death in the four years after a heart attack.

The research, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, surveyed the mental attitudes of 369 patients that went to hospital with unstable angina and heart attacks, and then monitored their health over the next 46 months. In the UK, 2.3 million people are living with coronary heart disease, the major cause of heart attacks and unstable angina.

The study, led by BHF Professor Andrew Steptoe, found that after suffering from a heart attack or unstable angina, the most pessimistic patients were twice as likely to later suffer from more serious adverse health complications like heart attacks, heart surgery or death in the following four years, when compared to the most optimistic patients. 

Why?

These findings could be linked to a number of physical and psychological impacts of a positive mental attitude. For example, 50 per cent of the most pessimistic patients who smoked were still smoking one year after going to hospital. In contrast, 85 per cent of the optimistic smokers had given up entirely one year on. Smoking has long been identified as a major risk factor for heart attack and angina with an estimated 22,000 deaths each year from cardiovascular disease attributed to smoking. This research comes ahead of No Smoking Day on 11 March, when we are urging smokers to quit for good. 

The study also showed that optimistic patients are more likely to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables one year after their incident. 40 per cent of the most optimistic patients were eating the recommended five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day, while only 20 per cent of the most pessimistic were eating the required amounts 12 months after their hospital admission. 

Although the researchers believe that a more optimistic approach promoted recovery by making changes towards healthier lifestyles - by quitting smoking and eating more fruit and vegetables -  they did not find that optimistic patients were more likely to be more physically active than pessimistic patients.

Heart attack and mental health

Suffering from a serious condition like angina or heart attack can take a drastic emotional toll.

Dr Mike Knapton
Our Associate Medical Director

Dr Mike Knapton, our Associate Medical Director, said: “Suffering from a serious condition like angina or heart attack can take a drastic emotional toll, which we know can lead to depression, further lowering the chances of a full recovery after a heart attack. If you’re living with a heart condition and struggling to cope, we would urge you to contact your GP who can put you in touch with the necessary support.”

Previous studies have shown that an optimistic outlook can be encouraged in patients and the researchers hope that their findings could help to identify the patients most at risk of serious health implications and those who would benefit from interventions to improve their outlook. 

Find out more about how having a heart condition can affect your mental health.