It is not just a Minor Thing – A Phenomenological‐Hermeneutic Study of Patients’ Experiences when afflicted by a Minor Heart Attack and Participating in Cardiac Rehabilitation

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This paper deals with patients’ experiences of their life situation when afflicted by a minor heart attack and following cardiac rehabilitation. Suffering from coronary heart disease (CHD) has been reported as a soul‐shaking experience featuring existential changes in terms of mental, social and physical self‐perception 1. For example, uncertainty regarding what they will be able to manage has affected patients after being discharged from hospital and returning to daily life 3. It is shown that cardiac patients feel a loss of normality 4 and that it can be a struggle to regain balance in life while managing the consequences of the disease 5.
The practice of cardiac care has undergone comprehensive changes as medical treatment is provided with increasingly rapid and effective means, including shortened hospitalisations followed by cardiac rehabilitation (CR). Although healthcare services are increasingly offered to improve prognosis and help the patients move forward with satisfying, healthy and well‐functioning lives 6, major challenges continue to affect communities and patients worldwide 8. Little is known about patients’ concerns when they are treated in the current fast‐track programmes. We do however know that patients tend to view a heart attack as only an acute event 10 and that they perceive invasive treatment more as an acute curative episode than as an intervention to treat a manifest, chronic condition 11.
Differences in the pathology of the presentation of CHD have led to separate diagnostic subcategories and different recommended pathways of treatment 12. In Denmark, patients afflicted by a minor heart attack, in terms of unstable angina pectoris (UAP) or non‐ST‐elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI), are currently offered a standard fast‐track treatment according to the National Heart Plan 13. Hereby, the patients are immediately hospitalised and treated subacute within 72 hours. Subsequently, they are rapidly discharged and enrolled in a CR programme for approximately 12 weeks.
An interest in making patients’ experiences and needs central to cardiac care has emerged, and currently researchers note that patients’ perspectives should be better addressed, especially regarding outpatient CR 14. Therefore, knowledge of how patients experience their life situation when afflicted by a minor heart attack and following the fast‐track programmes with CR is warranted. Such knowledge is essential in order to improve future cardiac care with respect to the specific needs of these particular patients 16.This paper presents findings from a larger study. The overall purpose of the study was to provide knowledge of how patients afflicted by a minor heart attack experience their life situation and what participating in the CR programme meant to them. This paper outlines the findings with respect to the patients’ experiences of their life situation.

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