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The Mind Matters

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When it comes to improving heart health, the mind can be a powerful tool. For those with heart disease, psychological therapies can decrease the likelihood of heart attack and death.

While heart disease therapies involving exercise, diet and medication can improve physical health, the benefits of mental therapies may be less obvious.

A new study found that heart disease patients may lower the risk of heart attacks and death if they receive psychological support, including music therapy and talking about their treatment.

Zoi Aggelopoulou, RN, PhD, with NIMTS Veterans Hospital of Athens, Greece, led analysis of nine trials that evaluated the additional impact of a psychological intervention as part of coronary heart disease treatment. The trials represented 6,641 patients.

Researchers observed that the addition of a psychological intervention seemed to reduce mortality and recurrence of cardiac episodes, such as heart attack.

The types of psychosocial interventions included in the studies were psychological support (such as talking to patients and their families about issues that were worrying them), music therapy, group psychotherapy, education, prayer, relaxation and breathing techniques, as well as diet and exercise.

While benefits were not statistically significant during the first two years of follow-up, the people who participated in the programs that included psychological intervention/exercise appeared to have a risk reduction of 55 percent for death and cardiac episodes after a two-year follow-up. This also translated into fewer repeat visits to the hospital.

Dr. Aggelopoulou told dailyRx News, “These psychological interventions can help reduce cardiac events in heart disease patients as they can reduce stress and depression of patients who had a cardiac episode or a cardiological operation.”

Along with colleagues A.T. Spirou, M. Mantzorou, D. Mastrogiannis, J. Trikilis and K. Mystakidou, Dr. Aggelopoulou said that the study validates the view that cardiovascular disease is not just a physical disease but also has a substantial psychological component.

She added that after acute cardiac episodes or major operations, heart patients may feel particularly vulnerable and powerless.

“During such events the health team and doctors and nurses in particular, who are spending more time at the bedside, should be able to recognize signs of disorders, implement techniques of management of psychological risk and refer them to specialized psychologists if needed,” Dr. Aggelopoulou told dailyRx News.

Based on the findings, she recommends that heart patients seek answers for all their questions while they are still in the hospital.

“Both during their hospitalization and after discharge, they should take part in programs for relaxation and breathing techniques, and diet and exercise programs,” Dr. Aggelopoulou said.

The authors urged that psychological interventions become part of the rehabilitation process.

In a press release, Dr. Aggelopoulou said, "We can help our patients by simply talking to them or introducing new things like music therapy into our clinical practice.”

The study was presented at the Acute Cardiac Care Congress 2013, the annual meeting of the Acute Cardiovascular Care Association (ACCA) of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), taking place October 12-14 in Madrid, Spain.

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