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CBT Therapy for Depression May Reduce the Likelihood of Heart Attacks and Strokes


Treating depression using CBT therapy may help reduce risk of heart attacks and strokes later in life, study shows

  • Those who suffer from depression are more likely to have cardiovascular problems
  • Successful CBT treatment can help both the heart and the brain

Treating depression through talk therapy may help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke later in life, a study suggests.

Previous research has shown that those who suffer from the mental illness are significantly more likely to have cardiovascular problems.

Now scientists believe that successfully treating depression through treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can not only help the brain, but also improve heart health.

In the new study, researchers from University College London analyzed data from 636,955 people over 45 who had access to treatment through England’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) national service between 2012 and 2020.

The free service offers CBT, counseling and guided self-help, with sessions delivered either face-to-face individually or in groups online.

Treating depression through talk therapy may help reduce risk of heart attack and stroke later in life, study suggests

A questionnaire, which takes into account factors such as lack of interest in doing things, sleep problems and low mood, was used to measure depressive symptoms.

Researchers then linked the IAPT outcomes (depression scores) to patients’ health records to look for new incidences of cardiovascular events.

They found that people whose depression symptoms improved after psychological treatment were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease over an average follow-up of three years, compared with those who did not.

The study also suggests that improvement in depression was associated with a 12 percent reduction in future cardiovascular disease at some point in time, with similar results seen for coronary artery disease, stroke and death.

The association was stronger in people under age 60, who had a 15 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 22 percent lower risk of all-cause death, respectively, according to findings published in the European Health Journal.

Those over age 60 had a 5 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 14 percent lower risk of death from all other causes, researchers found.

Lead author Celine El Baou said: ‘This study is the first to link the results of psychological therapy to future risk of cardiovascular disease.

“The findings are important because they suggest that the benefits of psychological therapy may extend beyond long-term mental health and physical health outcomes.

“They emphasize the importance of increasing access to psychological therapy for underrepresented groups, for example ethnic minority groups who may be more at risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Limitations of the study, funded by Alzheimer’s Society, contained little information about lifestyle factors.

They suggest that another explanation for the results could be that those responding to psychological therapy had lifestyles that were more protective against 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 risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.

“Although it’s observational, it provides further evidence that brain and heart health are linked, and that treating depression may have important benefits other than improving mental health.”

“However, more research is needed to show whether the therapy actually causes the reduction in heart and circulatory disease, and if so, how.”

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