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Health Psychology and Cardiac Care

Heart Disease in Women

Coronary artery disease is the number one cause of death in women in the United States and Europe, yet many women don’t consider themselves at risk. Women have traditional risk factors including diet, obesity, smoking, and stress. However, psychosocial risk factors such as depression, anxiety, and social support have been found to be robust predictors of future cardiac events and mortality. Considering the effect mental health has on cardiac events, psychological services can be a life-saving treatment addition. (American Heart Association, 2010; Allan & Scheidt, 1996; Rutledge et al., 2006)

What Psychologists Can Do

In women with heart disease, symptoms often mimic psychological disorders. It is important for psychologists to be aware of these similarities to make the necessary medical referrals. Also, by addressing treatment-seeking behaviors, treatment adherence, and lifestyle choices, psychologists play a key role in patients’ survival and recovery from heart disease.

  • Psychological interventions can be approached on an individual, couple, or family basis depending on the patients’ needs.
  • Addressing psychosocial risk factors aids treatment compliance, emotional and physical health.
  • Addressing and reducing behavioral risk factors in psychotherapy may help improve lifestyle choices and coping skills.
  • By addressing psychological distress, psychotherapy can have direct physiological effects such as a decreased stress response, decreased heart rate, increased heart rate variability and decreased cortisol levels.
  • Assist in stress reduction and family conflicts, and help the patient adjust to living with heart disease.