While we often think first about the physical aspects of heart attack prevention – such as proper diet, exercise and not smoking – a Greek nurse named Zoi Aggelopoulou says that psychological interventions – like praying with patients, playing music for them and simply talking with them about their treatment – have a very important role to play as well.
How important are these activities in patient outcomes? According to Aggelopoulou, they cut heart attacks and deaths in half in the patients studied.
She and her team first decided to conduct their study after she and other nurses in her cardiac care unit noticed that patients seemed to be less likely to have additional heart attacks or die after the nurses interacted with them by doing things such as helping them pray or talking with them to reassure them about their illness. They wanted to see if the effect that they were observing was real, so they set up a study compiling together the results from nine separate randomized clinical trials which dealt with psychological interventions in heart attack patients.
What they found was compelling. When patients received some sort of intervention which addressed the psychological aspects of their illness, they were less likely to return to the hospital with another heart attack or to die.
Aggelopoulou’s team found that heart attacks and deaths were reduced by 55 percent. However, these benefits did not kick in until after two years. For the first two years, they were not statistically significant.
The types of activities which were studied by the team included prayer, relaxation exercises, music therapy and talking with the patients and their families in order to address issues that they were worried or anxious about.
Aggelopoulou says that it is very important to talk with patients and address their concerns. Many patients have questions about what is going to happen after they leave the hospital, such as how will their illness affect their sex life and how should they take their medication. When nurses can answer these questions for them and reassure them that things will be okay, it helps tremendously with the prevention of future heart attacks.
She also notes that many studies have shown that psychological factors like depression and stress have an effect on whether people will have a heart attack in the first place.
Aggelopoulou and her team recommend that these types of psychological measures should be routinely integrated into the care of recovering heart attack patients. However, she notes that more research will be necessary to make a recommendation about which specific interventions are the most effective.
She concluded her remarks by saying that, although coronary care units are often very busy, it would greatly impact heart attack prevention efforts if more time was freed up for nurses to help their patients with the psychological aspects of their illness, such as fear, anxiety and depression.
Aggelopoulou presented the results of the study at the annual meeting of the Acute Cardiovascular Care Association of the European Society of Cardiology in Madrid, Spain, which was held on October 12-14 in Madrid, Spain.
Written by: Nancy Schimelpfening