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healthcare seeking behavior, heart failure, self-management



  1. Reeder, Katherine M. PhD, RN
  2. Ercole, Patrick M. PhD, MPH
  3. Peek, Gina M. MSN, RN
  4. Smith, Carol E. PhD, RN, FAAN


Background: Patients with heart failure (HF) are at heightened risk for acute exacerbation requiring hospitalization. Although timely reporting of symptoms can expedite outpatient treatment and avoid the need for hospitalization, few patients recognize and respond to symptoms until acutely ill.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to explore patients' perceptions of symptoms and self-care behaviors for symptom relief, leading up to a HF hospitalization.


Methods: To examine prehospitalization symptom scenarios, semistructured interviews were conducted with 60 patients hospitalized for acute decompensated HF.


Results: Thirty-seven patients (61.7%) said that they had a sense that "something just wasn't quite right" before their symptoms began but were unable to specify further. Signs and symptoms most often recognized by the patients were related to dyspnea (85%), fatigue (53.3%), and edema (41.7%). Few patients interpreted their symptoms as being related to worsening HF and most often attributed symptoms to changes in diet (18.3%) and medications (13.3%). Twenty-six patients (43.3%) used self-care strategies to relieve symptoms before hospital admission. More than 40% of the patients had symptoms at least 2 weeks before hospitalization.


Conclusions: Despite the wide dissemination of HF evidence-based guidelines, important components of symptom self-management remain suboptimal. Because most of HF self-management occurs in the postdischarge environment, research is needed that identifies how patients interpret symptoms of HF in the specific contexts in which patients self-manage their HF. These findings suggest the need for interventions that will help patients expeditiously recognize, accurately interpret, and use appropriate and safe self-care strategies for symptoms.