Patterns of Symptom Recognition, Interpretation, and Response in Heart Failure Patients: An Integrative Review

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Heart failure (HF) is a chronic illness affecting more than 5 million Americans, and it continues to lead healthcare-related expenditures in the United States. Hospitalization rates remain high and are caused by many factors, including poor self-care behaviors. Self-care research is growing, and a situation-specific theory for the HF population is now published. Self-care management, which is part of self-care, includes a series of responses and actions that the individual living with HF assumes in response to a change in baseline health. A critical aspect of enacting a self-care management plan is the ability to recognize changes in baseline health as being related to HF.


This integrative review examined research to date on self-reported patterns of symptom recognition, an antecedent to self-care management, and treatment-seeking behaviors in HF patients.


Descriptive research strategies were predominantly used to examine symptom recognition, interpretation, and response in HF patients. Seven studies used retrospective approaches, such as chart review or patient recall, to collect data, and 7 studies collected data from the patient prospectively. The quantitative portion of 2 mixed-methods study was also analyzed. Dyspnea was the most frequently reported symptom across all studies reviewed. Dyspnea was characterized in terms of duration and was defined inconsistently across studies. In some studies, duration of dyspnea was associated with treatment-seeking delays. Elderly patients and newly diagnosed HF patients are more likely to delay treatment seeking for onset of symptoms.

Clinical Implications:

Research is limited on symptom recognition and treatment-seeking behaviors in HF patients. Evidence suggests that symptom recognition may be impaired in the elderly population. Research studies to date on symptom recognition have largely been descriptive; no studies in this review followed patients’ ability to recognize and respond to symptoms prospectively in their home environment. Symptoms may vary and their pattern may influence patients’ recognition and/or response patterns.

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