Treating anxiety, depression linked to better heart disease outcomes

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woman suffering from depression (photo: courtesy of Mart Production)

Anxiety and depression are two prevalent mental health conditions. People with anxiety have trouble sleeping, experience persistent feelings of worry, and feelings of restlessness. They are also at an increased risk for depression, another common mental health condition. People with depression can experience persistent feelings of hopelessness and low levels of energy. They may have difficulty going about their everyday lives. Proper treatment of these conditions is essential to well-being, and research is ongoing about how treatment benefits other health areas, including heart health.

A study recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Foundation examined how treatment of anxiety and depression impacted heart health outcomes among people who had already experienced severe heart problems. Including over 1,500 participants, the study found that individuals who received medication and psychotherapy for anxiety or depression were 75 per cent less likely to have to stay in the hospital, again, and 74 per cent less likely to have to visit the emergency room. The results highlight the importance of treating mental health conditions to improve outcomes for people who already have heart problems.

Poor mental well-being can negatively influence physical health. For example, people with depression who also have a chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease may have worse symptoms from both conditions. People with anxiety can also be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Cheng-Han Chen, MD a board-certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at Memorial Care Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, CA, who was not involved in the study, explained, “There is a very close relationship between mental health and cardiovascular disease, a relationship that has impact in both directions. People with disorders such as depression and anxiety can experience increased blood pressure and physiological stress that are risk factors for heart disease”. In addition, he noted, “they may be more prone to adopt lifestyle changes, such as smoking and physical inactivity, that can further increase their risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Inversely, patients who suffer from heart disease such as heart attack, stroke or heart failure are at greater risk to develop mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or [post-traumatic stress disorder], after their stressful acute cardiovascular event”. The exact relationship between mental ill health and physical conditions is not something that researchers understand entirely.

Researchers of the current study wanted to understand more about the relationship between certain heart problems, and anxiety and depression. Participants had coronary artery disease or heart failure and they also had anxiety or depression. They had also experienced their first hospital admission related to heart failure.

This study was a population-based, retrospective cohort study. Researchers included 1,563 participants using Ohio Medicaid data in their analysis. Researchers looked at treatment for anxiety and depression and how this related to hospital readmission. The analysis found that people who received both psychotherapy and medication for depression or anxiety experienced the most benefits and the most risk reductions.

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