Treating Depression Using CBT Therapy May Help Reduce Risk of Heart Attacks and Strokes Later in Life, Study Finds
- People with depression are more likely to have cardiovascular problems
- Successful CBT treatment could help the heart as well as the brain
Treating depression with talk therapy could help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke later in life, a study has found.
Previous research has shown that people with mental disorders are much more likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems.
Today, scientists believe that effectively treating depression with treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) could not only help the brain, but also improve heart health.
In the new study, University College London researchers analyzed data from 636,955 people over the age of 45 who accessed treatment through England’s National Service for Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). ), between 2012 and 2020.
The free service offers CBT, counseling and guided self-help, with sessions delivered face-to-face individually or in online groups.
Treating depression with talk therapy could help reduce risk of heart attack and stroke later in life, study finds
A questionnaire, which takes into account factors such as lack of interest in doing things, sleep problems and feelings of low mood, was used to measure depressive symptoms.
The researchers then linked the IAPT results (depression scores) to the patients’ health records to look for a new incidence of cardiovascular events.
They found that people whose symptoms of depression improved after psychological treatment were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease over an average of three years of follow-up, compared to those who did not.
The study also suggests that improvement in depression was associated with a 12% decrease in future cardiovascular disease at some point, with similar results seen for coronary heart disease, stroke and death.
The association was strongest in people aged under 60, who had a 15% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 22% lower risk of death from all causes, respectively, according to findings published in the European Health Journal.
People over 60 had a 5% reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 14% reduced risk of dying from all other causes, the researchers found.
Lead author Céline El Baou said: ‘This study is the first to link psychological therapy outcomes to future risk of cardiovascular disease.
“The findings are important because they suggest the benefits of psychological therapy may extend beyond mental health outcomes and to long-term physical health.
“They highlight the importance of increasing access to psychological therapy for underrepresented groups, for example ethnic minority groups who may be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.”
The limitations of the study, funded by the Alzheimer Society, include little information about lifestyle factors.
They suggest that another explanation for the results could be that those who responded to psychological therapy had lifestyle behaviors that were more protective of cardiovascular disease.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, said: “This study shows that successful treatment of depression using psychological therapies is associated with a lower subsequent risk of heart and circulatory disease, including heart attacks and strokes.
“Although observational, it provides further evidence that brain and heart health are linked and that treating depression may have other important benefits beyond improving mental health.
“However, further research is needed to demonstrate whether the therapy actually causes the reduction in heart and circulatory problems, and if so, how.”