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Updated 11:00 AM November 1, 2004




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Religious faith shortens hospital stays, aids recovery

Religious faith and the power of prayer give people a sense of confidence, hope, optimism, and sense of control over ailments and other issues in life, according to a U-M study of patients who had open-heart surgery.

The study of 224 cardiac patients, conducted during a 19-month period at the Medical Center, is detailed in two papers, one in the current issue of Journal of Health Psychology and the other set to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Aging and Mental Health.

"A core value shared by many religious traditions is surrendering to God, which discourages over-assertion of personal control in a bond to the divine," says researcher of integrative medicine Amy Ai, who also holds a University of Washington appointment.

Ai and her colleagues in the psychology and cardiac surgery departments are pioneers in the new field of positive psychology, linking optimal expectation with faith.

Their previous research in 1998 found most cardiac patients prayed to help cope with heart surgeries and procedures, which was related to lower levels of post-operative stress one year later. Their recent research aims at identifying the mechanism of the faith effect on health related well-being.

Cardiovascular diseases and stroke cost the U.S. economy more than $351.8 billion in 2003, with heart disease remaining the No. 1 killer of Americans, Ai says. The number of cardiovascular operations and procedures performed each year has grown 400 percent during the past two decades, she says.

Researchers measured the patients for their prayer coping and religiosity, cardiac status, general health and mental health, their level of depression, social support, and socio-demographic factors.

They found a strong link between religiosity and the ability to feel in control, and also found a dependence of believers on the spiritual support of a higher power in their regular life.

"The day before a major cardiac procedure, an uncontrollable event, is a life-altering moment," Ai says. "The fact that the surgical and medical team would determine the immediate outcomes provides an intriguing window into the positive attitudes such as hope, optimism, and perceived control and faith of cardiac patients."

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