Younger patients who have had a heart attack tend to overestimate the time they are going to live, according to Duke University researchers.
The study showed that 122 patients with heart failure, enrolled in a Duke University programme, believed the would live about 40 per cent longer than what survival models predicted.
“It's a bit of a puzzle,” said cardiologist Larry Allen, a co-author of the study.
“As physicians, we know how important it is to talk with our patients about end-of-life issues, but this study suggests we may need to take another look at how we might do that better."
While the reasons underlying the phenomenon aren't clear, scientists say the finding may hold important implications about options such as high-end medical devices, transplantation or palliative care - important decisions that have enormous impact on patients' quality of life and clinical outcomes.
About five million people in the US have heart failure, a condition in which the heart becomes weak and is no longer able to pump as much blood as the body needs.
Despite advances in treatment options, the prognosis for patients with symptomatic heart failure is grim: median life expectancy is less than five years.
Michael Felker, senior investigator of the study, said the finding is important on many levels.
“With the increasing availability of potentially life-saving but costly therapies, patients need to be fully aware of their prognosis in order to make appropriate decisions about their care,” said Felker.
When asked to address the outcome, nine percent said they thought they would be cured, 51 per cent said they thought they would have normal life expectancy and 36 per cent said they thought heart failure would shorten their lives.
On average, the patients said they thought they would live an additional 13 years. But the widely accepted Seattle Heart Failure Model suggested that the patients would only live an additional 10 years, on average.
The findings of the study have appeared in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.