According to new research, assessing a person’s psychological stress can be a useful technique to determine their risk of developing heart and blood vessel disease.
Additionally, the study’s findings indicated that a quick questionnaire could aid in the assessment.
As with other health behaviours and risk variables that clinicians track, such physical activity and cholesterol levels, “this study is part of the gathering evidence that psychological distress is a critically crucial aspect in a cardiovascular diagnosis,” said co-author Emily Gathright. She teaches psychiatry and human behaviour as an assistant professor at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
In order to conduct the study, the team reviewed studies from the previous five years that involved adults without a psychiatric diagnosis who had been followed for more than six months and had undergone screening for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, or other general mental health symptoms. Women made up about 58%.
Gathright and her coworkers examined the outcomes of 28 studies totaling more than 658,000 people. The researchers discovered that those who reported significant levels of psychological distress had a 28% increased risk of heart disease.
A quick mental health questionnaire, according to study co-author Carly Goldstein, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behaviour, can help physicians better understand a patient’s risk for heart disease as well as their risk for poor mental health.
The clinician can provide the patient instant advice on how increasing their mental health can help them improve their heart health based on the questionnaire’s results, she continued.
In a news release from Brown University, Goldstein stated that “this analysis shows that a patient’s psychological distress is directly associated with their cardiovascular risk, providing opportunities for clinicians to help a patient manage their risks over time, for better overall health, right at the point of care.”
She said that prior to the study, it was unknown whether a quick mental health check could indicate a person’s risk for heart disease.
According to study co-author Allison Gaffey, a clinical psychologist at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., who completed her predoctoral internship at Brown’s medical school, the majority of research examining connections between psychological health and heart disease has focused on people who have already been diagnosed.
The importance of psychological health in the context of care management is unquestionably understood, according to Gaffey.
She pointed out that the studies’ screening tools were succinct, well-known, and capable of being utilised with confidence by any clinical professional.
In contrast to using only more conventional assessments like blood pressure or cholesterol levels, Gaffey said, “We believe that using these brief screeners, whether in a hospital or a community health care setting, provides feedback that is helpful in understanding risk for cardiovascular disease in a very multidimensional way.”
Patients who show any signs of distress may still benefit from further treatment to help prevent heart disease, she continued, even if they do not match the threshold for acute psychological distress.
While “healthy sleep” was added to the American Heart Association’s new guidelines as a crucial component of heart health, “managing stress and mental health” was left out.
The committee recommended that this checklist be expanded to encompass strong mental health.
Depression was the most common aspect of psychological distress gauged in the studies analyzed, Goldstein said, indicating that screening should also attempt to gauge anxiety.
“I would encourage all providers, cardiovascular and specialty providers as well as primary care providers, to do some kind of brief screening for psychological distress to assess cardiovascular risk,” she advised. “And I would argue that every provider’s office can make brief recommendations to patients who warrant them, which may be as simple as pointing towards free, publicly available mental health resources.”
Mental health support recommendations can also make a difference in the patient’s overall health, Goldstein said.
The Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention published the findings on Nov. 7.
More information on heart and blood vessel disease can be found at the World Health Organization.
SOURCE: A press release from Brown University