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J Psychosom Res. 2009 Jul;67(1):11-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.11.006. Epub 2009 Mar 3.

Can an illness perception intervention reduce illness anxiety in spouses of myocardial infarction patients? A randomized controlled trial.

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Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.



To investigate whether a brief in-hospital illness perception intervention for myocardial infarction (MI) patients and their spouses could change spouses' illness perceptions and reduce spouses' anxiety about the illness.


Fifty-seven spouses participated in a randomized controlled trial of an illness perception intervention for MI patients. Spouses of patients randomized to the intervention attended one half-hour patient-and-spouse session with a psychologist in addition to standard care. Spouses completed measures of illness perceptions, expectations, and illness anxiety at admission and at 1 week following discharge, and spouses' illness worry was rated by the patients at 3 months. The main outcome for spouses was differences in anxiety between intervention and control groups.


One week following discharge, spouses in the intervention group had higher illness understanding, lower concern, stronger causal attributions to hereditary factors, and fewer questions about their partner's heart condition compared to the control group. Intervention group spouses reported more positive expectations about the ability of the patient's heart to recover, and lower perceived likelihood of another MI. They had lower anxiety about the patient doing physical activity and about the patient's medications, and lower distress about the patient's symptoms. Spouses in the intervention group were rated as less worried about the illness at 3 months.


Spouses of patients represent a new target for illness perception interventions and these results demonstrate that a brief illness perception intervention can change illness perceptions and reduce anxiety about the illness in spouses of MI patients.

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