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Ann Pharmacother. 2001 Mar;35(3):352-9.

Religion and coping with serious medical illness.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.



To review and discuss some of the research published in the last several decades that has addressed the role that religion plays in helping patients cope with serious medical illness.


Although this is not a systematic review of the literature, it provides a sampling of the studies that have examined the relationship between religious involvement, coping with illness, and health outcomes. This sampling of studies reflects the findings of a much larger systematic review of research (MEDLINE, Current Contents, Psychlit, Soclit, HealthStar, Cancerlit, CINAHL, and others) during the past century that was recently completed by the authors.


Epidemiologic studies published in the English-language literature were reviewed and discussed.


A number of well-designed cross-sectional and prospective studies have examined the relationship between religious beliefs and activities and adaptation to physical illness in patients with general medical conditions, neurologic disorders, heart disease, renal failure, AIDS, and a host of other physical disorders. This review demonstrates the widespread use of religion in coping with medical illness and provides circumstantial evidence for the possible benefits of this lifestyle factor.


When people become physically ill, many rely heavily on religious beliefs and practices to relieve stress, retain a sense of control, and maintain hope and their sense of meaning and purpose in life. Religious involvement appears to enable the sick, particularly those with serious and disabling medical illness, to cope better and experience psychological growth from their negative health experiences, rather than be defeated or overcome by them.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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