The Link Between Psychological Health and Heart Disease

A new study reveals that anxiety and depression in relation to physical illness only makes things worse

Heart disease patients with anxiety have twice the risk of dying from any cause than those without anxiety

A new study shows that keeping a positive outlook can be a real lifesaver

A sunny disposition can improve your health, says a recent study from the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., which was published in the American Heart Association’s Rapid Access Journal.

Heart Disease and Anxiety

In this study, researchers got 934 heart-disease patients with an average age of 62 to complete a questionnaire that determined their level of psychological health.

The researchers were aiming to figure out if anxiety and depression help determine outcomes in heart-disease patients. The conclusion is exactly what you’d think: namely, that psychological health can indeed play a big role in determining physical well-being when you’re already sick.

The researchers found that “heart-disease patients who have anxiety have twice the risk of dying from any cause compared to those without anxiety,” while “patients with both anxiety and depression have triple the risk of dying.”

In other words, if you’re already sick with heart disease and you’re worried or depressed about it — and is there anyone who wouldn’t be? — then you’re more likely to die from your heart problem than someone who is neither anxious nor depressed.

Treatment Options

So what are you supposed to do with this information?

What you really need to know if you already have heart disease is what, if anything, can be done about this connection between how you feel emotionally and your heart problem.

In other words, can anti-anxiety and/or anti-depressant medications make a significant difference in outcome for heart patients? And can counselling or some other type of intervention lower the risk of future heart attacks (and death) in heart patients?

Unfortunately, we don’t really know the answers to those questions, but before every anxious or depressed heart patient reading this becomes even more anxious or depressed, there are some safe steps to be taken.

Counselling and Lifestyle Changes

Although the use of some psychotropic medications can be problematic (many of those drugs don’t work nearly as well as we’d like them to and, for many people, the risks and side effects outweigh the potential benefits), the same cannot be said, I think, of counselling intervention or lifestyle improvement.

So, if you are anxious or depressed, and this is true even if you don’t have heart disease, try to do something about it. Start with improving your lifestyle (especially through diet, exercise and sleep), and if you can arrange it, get some psychological counselling as well.

You might just live longer as a result.

Dr. Art Hister is a medical writer and health analyst for Global TV.

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