Research presented at the 2013 Acute Cardiac Congress in Spain identified psychological interventions as an effective treatment for improving the cardiovascular health of someone who has suffered a heart attack. According to researchers from Athens, Greece, taking time to interact with patients could reduce their chance of death or another heart attack by over 50 percent.

"The results of our study strengthen the evidence that psychological factors have a big role to play in heart disease,” explained lead author Dr. Zoi Aggelopoulou. “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.”

According to American Heart Association, a heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is obstructed, subsequently reducing the amount of oxygen. Of the 715,000 people in the United States who have a heart attack each year, 190,000 suffered at least one before.

Dr. Aggelopoulou and her colleagues from Greece analyzed 6,600 patients using nine randomized trials. Interventions carried out by the research team included detailed discussions with patients about their condition, group cognitive therapy, musical therapy, and relaxation methods. After two years, patients who participated in some type of psychological intervention reduced their chances of dying or having another heart attack by 55 percent.

"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,” Aggelopoulou added. “It made us think that coronary heart disease is not just physical but also has a psychological component."

The research team is confident that talking to patients or having them engage in pleasurable activities can help them understand how to keep their health on track. It can also help them assimilate to lifestyle changes that they have to make in order to achieve a full recovery.

“This validates our view that cardiovascular disease is not just a physical disease but also has a substantial psychological component," said Aggelopoulou. "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.”