Loyola University Chicago

Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing


Loyola School of Nursing Researchers and Hines VA to Study Mindfulness in Women Veterans at Risk for Heart Disease

Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing (MNSON) researchers and Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital recently were given an award to study mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in women veterans at risk for heart disease. They will receive approximately $1.1 million for this four-year study from the VA Nursing Research Initiative (NRI). MBSR is a form of complementary medicine that combines yoga and meditation.

“Women veterans are a rapidly growing population with unique health needs,” said Karen Saban, PhD, RN, APRN, CNRN, associate professor, MNSON and health science researcher at the Hines VA. “This research award will allow us to improve the health and quality of life of those who have served using alternative methods of care.”

Researchers will study 138 women veterans who have at least two risk factors for heart disease. The eight-week study will determine the extent to which training in MBSR improves psychological well-being, decreases inflammation, and reduces heart disease risk. Researchers also will evaluate protective measures and risk factors, such as prior life adversity, social support and health behaviors that may alter the positive effects of MBSR.

“This is the first study that will look at mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques in women veterans at risk for heart disease,” said Fran Weaver, PhD, director, Center for Management of Complex Chronic Care, Hines VA. “Given that heart disease is a major cause of death, this research also may have broader implications for the general population.”

Evidence demonstrates that chronic stress doubles the risk of a heart attack and contributes to inflammation linked to artery disease and stroke. Veterans who have experienced combat are at greater risk for stress and heart disease as a result. While previous research has focused on males, statistics reveal that a startling number (81 – 92 percent) of women veterans report experiencing at least one traumatic event, which contributes to stress. Women veterans also have significant rates of prior life adversity such as sexual assault, physical violence, and combat exposure.

Using MBSR to reduce stress and develop coping strategies may improve psychological well-being and reduce heart disease risk in women veterans. Mindfulness techniques also have been found to reduce symptoms of depression and improve quality of life in veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. People who use MBSR gain awareness about the relationship among their thoughts, emotions and reactions, which can change conditioned patterns of emotional responses.
“Previous research conducted at Loyola demonstrated that MBSR improved psychological well-being and immune function in women with breast cancer,” said Linda Janusek, RN, PhD, FAAN, professor and endowed chair, MNSON, and research award mentor and co-investigator. “We look forward to partnering with the VA to determine the impact mindfulness has on psychological well-being and heart disease risk in women veterans.”
The other research award mentor is Eileen Collins, PhD, RN, FAACVPR, FAAN, Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital and University of Illinois at Chicago. Other co-investigators include Herb Mathews, PhD, and Fred Bryant, PhD, Loyola University Chicago, and Sudha Bhoopalam, MD, Loyola and Hines VA.