Background: Many patients with heart failure have generalized wasting, referred to as cardiac cachexia. This leads to skeletal muscle wasting, impaired mobility, reduced functional capacity and poor prognosis. Patients with heart failure have symptoms that can affect their food intake, for example breathing difficulties, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, early feeling of fullness and ascites. These dietary problems and patients' nutritional status, can be significantly improved by means of simple nursing interventions.
Aim: This paper reports a grounded theory study which developed a theoretical model of experiences of food and food intake among patients with heart failure.
Methods: A descriptive and exploratory design, with a grounded theory analysis, was used. Data were collected in 2002 through interviews with 11 patients with heart failure.
Findings: Two core categories emerged: emotions and the meaning of food. Psychosocial meaning could be associated with positive feelings of well-being, or negative feelings of sorrow. Physiological meaning could be associated with positive feelings of comfort or negative feelings of burden. Patients' experiences of food and eating changed during the development of the disease. Feelings of fatigue and lack of appetite gave rise to a feeling of deprivation because of missing both eating and the related social environment. This could lead to a loss of personal identity.
Discussion: Although the findings of a qualitative study cannot be generalized, they raise important clinical nursing issues. With increasingly shorter hospital stays, these problems will need to be addressed by community healthcare staff and family carers. Therefore, all healthcare professionals need knowledge about heart disease and information techniques if they are to be able to give appropriate care to this group.
Conclusion: Ignorance about food and eating can easily lead to malnourishment, with an increased risk of the patients falling into a vicious circle. Implications of the study for health care practice and research are identified.