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  • Posted March 21, 2024

As Treatments Ease Anxiety, Heart Risks Also Decline

People with heart disease can stay healthier if they address their emotional problems as well as their physical ailments, a new study says.

Treating anxiety and depression reduced ER visits and hospitalizations among patients with heart disease, researchers report in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Psychotherapy, mood-controlling medication or a combination of the two “was associated with as much as a 75% reduction in hospitalizations or emergency room visits,” said lead researcher Dr. Philip Binkley, executive vice chair of internal medicine at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Anxiety and depression are common in people with heart failure, Binkley said in a news release, and mental health is known to impact a person's risk of other health problems.

“Heart disease and anxiety/depression interact such that each promotes the other,” he said.

For this study, researchers looked at more than 1,500 people admitted to the hospital for blocked arteries or heart failure. About 92% of participants in the study had been diagnosed with anxiety and 56% with depression prior to their hospitalization.

The patients were between 22 and 64 years old, and all were enrolled in Medicaid, researchers said.

About 23% of patients received antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy, 15% received psychotherapy alone, 29% received antidepressants alone, and 33% received no mental health treatment.

The study found that the combination of medication and talk therapy reduced the risk of hospitalization by 68% to 75%, the risk of an ER visit by 67% to 74%, and the risk of early death from any cause by 65% to 67%.

Therapy alone reduced risk of hospitalization by 46% to 49% and ER visits by 48% to 53%, while drugs alone reduced hospitalizations by 47% to 58% and ER visits by 41% to 49%.

Anxiety and depression can contribute to heart disease by activating the fight-or-flight nervous system, causing increases in heart rate and blood pressure, Binkley said.

“I hope the results of our study motivate cardiologists and health care professionals to screen routinely for depression and anxiety and demonstrate that collaborative care models are essential for the management of cardiovascular and mental health,” he concluded.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on heart disease and mental health.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, March 20, 2024

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