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Study Shows Stress-Reduction Therapy May Benefit Heart Patients
Chronic stress and emotional problems like anger or depression may be linked to about one in every three heart attacks. But can the risk for heart problems be lowered by taking steps to manage these factors? A new study analyzed how cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—counseling that focuses on changing the way you think about a problem—may benefit patients with heart disease.

Therapy Linked to Better Heart Outcomes 
Researchers assigned more than 350 men and women who had suffered a recent heart disease event such as a heart attack to one of two groups: those who received heart medication only and those who received medication and CBT. The CBT group participated in up to 40 hours over one year of group therapy sessions that focused on issues such as stress reduction and anger management.

After following the health of participants for almost eight years, researchers found that the therapy group had about 45 percent fewer heart attacks than those who didn’t have the therapy. They also had 41 percent fewer deaths and heart-related events like stroke. And the more therapy sessions a patient attended, the lower his or her risk.

More Research Needed on Therapy’s Impact
Authors of the study are not sure how learning stress-reduction practices lowered the rates of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular-related death. Other factors, such as greater consistency in taking medication or just participating in group therapy, may have played a role. However, experts believe the results are significant enough to explore further research.

If you have heart disease, you may want to talk with your doctor about the benefits of adding cognitive behavior therapy to your treatment plan.

For everyday tips on how to reduce stress and combat anxiety, such as learning how to think positively or using exercise to clear your mind, visit www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/StressManagement/Stress-Management_UCM_001082_SubHomePage.jsp.

Last reviewed: April 2011

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