The Acute Cardiac Care Congress 2013 is the annual meeting of the Acute Cardiovascular Care Association (ACCA) of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). It takes place 12-14 October in Madrid, Spain.
Dr Zoi Aggelopoulou, a nurse and one of the study authors, said: "The nurses on our coronary care unit observed that patients were less likely to have another heart attack, die, or return to hospital when we talked to them about their treatment, played music for them or helped religious patients to say prayers. It made us think that coronary heart disease is not just physical but also has a psychological component."
She added: "We wanted to find out if others had observed the same thing, and whether psychological support had a real impact on the outcomes of patients with coronary heart disease."
The current study was a meta-analysis of 9 randomised controlled trials. The researchers evaluated whether psychological interventions could improve outcomes of patients with coronary heart disease when combined with a conventional rehabilitation programme.
The researchers found that the addition of psychological interventions reduced mortality and cardiovascular events by 55% after 2 years or more (relative risk [RR]=0.45, 95% confidence interval [CI]=0.37-0.54, p<0.001). The benefits were not significant during the first 2 years (RR=0.77, 95% CI=0.55-1.09, p=0.145).
Dr Aggelopoulou said: "We found a huge benefit of psychological interventions after 2 years, with less patients dying or having a cardiovascular event and therefore fewer repeat hospital visits. The interventions included talking to patients and their families about issues that were worrying them, relaxation exercise, music therapy, and helping them to say prayers."
She added: "Patients want to know what will happen to them when they leave hospital, whether or not they can have sex, and how to take their medication. Our research shows that giving them information and providing reassurance decreases the chances of them dying or having another heart attack. Patients can help instigate this new culture of information by asking more questions and getting more involved in decisions about their treatment."
Population-based studies have shown that psychological factors may have an influence on the likelihood of having a heart attack in the first place. The factors include depression, social isolation, low socioeconomic status, and chronic stress such as occupational or marital distress and stress from caregiving.
Dr Aggelopoulou said: "The results of our study strengthen the evidence that psychological factors have a big role to play in heart disease. Not only do they impact on the risk of having a heart attack, but they also affect the future outlook of a patient who has had a cardiovascular event. This validates our view that cardiovascular disease is not just a physical disease but also has a substantial psychological component."
The researchers concluded that psychological interventions should be incorporated into the rehabilitation of patients with coronary heart disease. Dr Aggelopoulou said: "More clinical trials are needed to clarify which interventions are most effective and how they can best be implemented."
She concluded: "We can help our patients by simply talking to them or introducing new things like music therapy into our clinical practice. Coronary units are busy places - in Greece we sometimes have 1-2 nurses for 10-20 patients in the coronary care unit and we are under time pressure. But our finding that the addition of psychological support on top of physiological therapies reduces death and cardiovascular events by 55% should be a wake-up call that these interventions really do work. Preventing repeat hospital visits would free up the time we need to implement them."