Can talk therapy help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke? While it may seem unlikely, evidence suggests that psychological treatments for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and stress are associated with improved cardiovascular health.
New research recently published in the European Heart Journal suggests that improving mental health could also help physical health, especially in those under 60. This was the first study to examine the association between depression symptoms with psychological therapy and whether it can help lower the likelihood of cardiovascular disease.
For the study, researchers analyzed information from 636,955 adults over 45 years old with depression who had completed a course of psychological therapy and did not have cardiovascular disease or dementia. The information was obtained from national electronic health record databases in England.
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 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.
Researchers determined that depression was defined as a score of 10 or more. Patients were followed for at least 365 after their last therapy session, and new onset all-cause cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, and all-cause mortality was recorded.
Researchers found that during a median follow-up of 3.1 years in those who engaged in talk therapy, depression symptoms improved in 59% of participants. This improvement in depression was associated with 12%, 11%, 12%, and 19% lower risks of any cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, and all-cause mortality, respectively, versus no improvement. It was noted that all associations were stronger in 45 to 60-year-olds.
Study author 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.”
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