A newly released scientific statement from the American Heart Association is highlighting the relationship between mental health and heart disease. Published in the journal Circulation, the statement helps physicians summarize ways to improve psychological health for people with, and at risk for, heart disease.
Previous research has demonstrated that negative psychological factors, personality traits, and mental health disorders can negatively impact cardiovascular health. Mind, body, and heart are interconnected, and studies have shown that both negative and positive psychological attributes can be associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.
Negative psychological health conditions can include depression, anxiety, anger, chronic stress, pessimism, and dissatisfaction with one’s current life. These conditions have been shown to be associated with biological responses such as irregularities of heart rate, digestive complaints, rise in blood pressure, inflammation, and reduced blood flow to the heart.
Research has also shown that those who tend to suffer from negative psychological health are associated with health behaviors that are linked to increased risk for heart disease and stroke. These include smoking, poor physical activity, unhealthy diet, and obesity. They are also more likely not to take medication as prescribed.
The statement released by the American Heart Association suggests regular mental health screening for people with or at risk for cardiovascular disease. It has been found that psychological therapy and mind-body programs can lead to better cardiovascular health. These programs include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, collaborative care management approaches, stress reduction therapy, and meditation.
The statement also noted that both the cumulative effect of daily stressors and exposure to traumatic events could also increase heart disease and stroke risk. It was found that patients’ self-report of work-related stress and general stress was associated with an increase of up to 40% risk of developing or dying from heart disease.
The Effects of Positive Psychological Health
The statement was not all bad news, as it also found an association between positive psychological health and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Those who showed characteristics such as happiness, optimism, gratitude, life satisfaction, and mindfulness were more likely to have positive health outcomes. These include lower blood pressure, lower glucose, less inflammation, and lower cholesterol levels.
Chair of the writing committee for the statement, Glenn N. Levine, M.D., FAHA said, “Wellness is more than simply the absence of disease. It is an active process directed toward a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life. We must strive to reduce negative aspects of psychological health and promote an overall positive and healthy state of being. In patients with or at risk for heart disease, health care professionals need to address the mental Wellness of the patient in tandem with the physical conditions affecting the body, such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, chest pain, etc.”
By taking care of mental health problems, physical health can also be improved. The statement made by the American Heart Association helps to shed some light on the relationship between cardiovascular health, in particular, mental health. By bringing these relationships to the forefront, physicians may be better equipped to help patients lower their risks.