A new study published in the European Heart Journal suggests that people taking part in psychological therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can lower their risk of stroke and heart disease – even more than simple lifestyle changes like diet or exercise alone could provide.
Today, we’ll dive into some of the key findings from recent studies about how psychological health can impact your cardiovascular system.
More focus and research are being done on the relationship between physical health and mental health, and this new study adds to mounting evidence that the two are integrally connected. This new study was the first to investigate whether reducing depression with psychological therapy could help to lower the likelihood of future cardiovascular disease.
The study included 636,955 adults over 45 years old with depression who did not have cardiovascular disease or dementia but had completed a course of psychological therapy. The average age of the participants was 55 years, and 66% were women. Electronic health records were used to obtain information on their psychological treatment, the incidence of cardiovascular disease and death.
Depression levels were assessed before and after therapy using the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), which gives a score of 0 (not at all) to 3 (nearly every day) for nine items. These items included: little interest or pleasure in doing things; feeling down, depressed, or hopeless; trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much; feeling tired or having little energy; poor appetite or overeating; feeling you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down; trouble concentrating on things; moving or speaking slowly or being fidgety or restless; thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way.
Participants who scored 10 points or more were considered to have depression; an improvement in depression was defined as a reduction of 6 points or more. Anxiety was also included in the definition of depression, as the therapy outcome was not considered good if depression improved, but anxiety worsened.
All patients were monitored for new onset all-cause cardiovascular disease, stroke, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality. It was found that during a median follow-up of 3.1 years, depression symptoms improved in 59% of participants. The improvement of depression was associated with an 11% – 19% lower risk of any cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke and all-cause mortality, versus no improvement. All associations were strongest in 45 to 60-year-olds.
Study author Céline El Baou said, “Our findings emphasize the importance of making psychological treatments more widely available and accessible to enhance mental and physical health. This is especially relevant for certain groups who face barriers to accessing psychological therapies and are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease. Collaborative care systems where specialists from both disciplines work together could be one way to make treatment more accessible and obtain better outcomes overall.”
Promoting Heart Health
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