The risks of not understanding your health
By not knowing exactly what your pacemaker or defibrillator does, you could run the risk for other serious health complications. A recent study published by the Columbia University School of Nursing in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing found that 40 percent of patients with these devices had little to no understanding of their own cardiac health.
A team of researchers evaluated the health literacy of 116 patients using a standard measure of reading and math comprehension, the Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults. The study population was ethnically diverse: 37.1 percent white, 39.7 percent Hispanic and 22.4 percent African American; 77.4 percent of the population reported finishing high school. The average age of the study population was 68. Evaluations were done in English or Spanish. Almost 30 percent of participants had inadequate health literacy, and an additional 10 percent were marginal.
The study also examined literacy among patients with medical conditions that are common among patients with pacemakers and defibrillators. Individuals with hypertension or high cholesterol were more than twice as likely to have limited understanding as individuals without those conditions. Those with diabetes were almost twice as likely to have low health literacy.
Thanks to pacemakers and defibrillators, people are living longer. But for diseases like diabetes and hypertension, which only get worse with age, it is even more important for patients to be knowledgeable about their health.
“What patients don’t understand is that if they don’t control their diabetes or hypertension, their heart function is going to get worse despite having the device,” says Dr. Dory Jarzabkowski, cardiologist with Advocate Medical Group and Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Bloomington-Normal, Ill.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines health literacy as the point to which an individual has the ability to obtain, communicate and comprehend basic health information and treatments to make the best decisions about their own or a loved one’s care. Limited health literacy is associated with poorer health outcomes, higher rates of hospitalizations, increased use of the emergency department, improper use of medications, and higher health care costs.
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