atrial fibrillation, coping, illness perceptions, psychological distress, quality of life



  1. McCabe, Pamela J. PhD, RN, ACNS-BC
  2. Barnason, Susan A. PhD, RN, APRN-BC


Background: Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a prevalent, life-complicating illness associated with psychological distress. Interventions to manage the psychological challenges of living with AF are needed. Evidence suggests that illness perceptions, coping strategies, and symptoms that contribute to psychological distress may be modified by psychoeducational interventions to reduce psychological distress. However, little is known about how illness perceptions, coping strategies, and symptoms contribute to psychological distress in patients with AF.


Objective: The aim of this correlational study guided by Levethal's Common Sense Model of Self-regulation was to identify the extent to which illness perceptions, coping strategies, symptom frequency, and symptom severity contributed to psychological distress in patients with recurrent symptomatic AF. The contribution of these factors was considered with respect to the effects of gender, age, type of AF, and time since AF diagnosis.


Methods: Participants (n = 207; 56% male; 64.2 +/- 12.3 years old) completed the Illness Perception Questionnaire-Revised, the COPE Inventory, the Symptom Checklist-Frequency and Severity, and the Profile of Mood States. Data were analyzed using Pearson correlation and hierarchical multiple regression.


Results: Illness perceptions contributed most to psychological distress, followed by coping strategies and symptom frequency. Illness perceptions explained the largest portion of the total variance for the following: Tension-Anxiety, 44/56%; Depression-Dejection, 38/50%; Fatigue-Inertia, 43/53%; Confusion-Bewilderment, 41/49%; Vigor-Activity, 24/35%; and Total Mood Disturbance, 47/63%. Illness perceptions of AF as having serious consequences, a psychological cause, and perceived poor understanding of AF together contributed more (.47) to Total Mood Disturbance than did coping by focusing on emotion (.08) or symptom frequency (.06).


Conclusions: Illness perceptions are important contributors to psychological distress in patients with AF. Assessment of patients' illness perceptions may reveal those that increase the risk for psychological distress. Research is warranted to evaluate interventions to modify psychological cause and consequence beliefs and to promote understanding of AF.