University of Ottawa Heart Institute

University of Ottawa Heart Institute

November 18, 2013 12:00 ET

Support Program Could Help Families of Heart Patients Take Their Health Into Their Own Hands

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Nov. 18, 2013) - Family members of patients with heart disease adopted healthier lifestyles and decreased their risk of a cardiovascular event after participating in a program to improve heart health, according to a clinical trial from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

Family members of patients with coronary heart disease have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, with behavioural factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise, tobacco use, and more, playing a role in addition to genetic factors.

A year-long family heart health study involving 426 siblings, children and spouses of patients hospitalized for an acute coronary event looked at the impact of a specialized intervention program on cholesterol levels, physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption as well as other outcomes. The clinical trial randomized 211 family members to an intervention group which received 17 counselling sessions with a trained health educator, goal setting, and feedback. Detailed reports on health status and recommendations were also sent to the patients' primary doctor. By contrast, the 215 family members in the control group received only printed materials on smoking cessation, healthy eating, physical activity, and weight management.

People in the intervention group became more physically active, engaging in an additional 66 minutes of weekly physical activity at the three-month mark compared with controls. By the 12-month mark, they were performing 24 extra minutes of activity, less than at three months but more than at the start of the trial. Family members in the intervention group added more fruit and vegetables to their diets and body mass index and waist circumference were both reduced. However, there appeared to be no effect on total cholesterol:high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

"The effects of the health educator-led family heart health intervention in motivating and enabling behaviour change are impressive and clinically important," writes Dr. Robert Reid, Deputy Chief of the Division of Prevention and Rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. "Self-reported changes in physical activity, dietary patterns and smoking cessation were corroborated by improvements in objective measures such as body mass index, waist circumference and expired carbon monoxide."

More people in the intervention group stopped smoking after one year, with six people quitting smoking compared to only one in the control group.

The authors suggest that the components of the program - goal-setting, self-monitoring, frequent contact with health educators, feedback and other elements - were motivators for behavioural change compared with more passive approaches, such as generic handouts used by many physicians in practice.

Lessons learned:

  • Family members were interested to learn about their personal risk of heart disease and how to decrease risk;
  • Hearing their risk level prompted many participants to change behaviours;
  • Participants were motivated and willing to have frequent contact with health educators over the telephone.

"High participant engagement and a reasonable cost ($240) suggest the intervention is feasible in nontribal settings," concluded the authors.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Ottawa, Ontario; Columbia University Medical Centre, New York, New York; the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, North Bay, Ontario; and the Department of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Ottawa Heart Institute's CardioPrevent® program helps individuals with risk factors lower their chances of having cardiovascular disease (CVD). Our health experts will develop a tailored personalized plan to improve participants' well-being and quality of life. CardioPrevent® is free of charge and accepts individuals who are at moderate to high-risk for CVD.

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