On March 17, 2014
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Epidemiologic research of the last half-century has clearly shown that psychosocial factors related to the social environment, personality characteristics, and negative affect increase the risk of incident CVD and also impact prognosis of cardiac patients. Several mechanisms may explain this link, including a genetic predisposition, poor lifestyle choices, low adherence to health recommendations, and direct pathophysiologic perturbations. The latter include alteration of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis and autonomic dysfunction resulting in endothelial dysfunction, inflammation, and a prothrombotic state further downstream. Screening for psychosocial factors seems appropriate as part of the standard history and based on the clinician’s knowledge of the patient and the purpose of the visit. Psychological interventions generally alleviate distress in cardiac patients, but whether they reduce the risk of hard cardiovascular endpoints and all-cause mortality is less evident. Cardiac patients with more severe depression may particularly profit from antidepressant medications. Due to their pharmacologic properties, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors were shown to improve cardiovascular outcome. The most effective psychosocial treatment is multicomponent therapy that combines elements of cognitive behaviour therapy (“stress management”) and changes in health behaviours, including the adoption of a regular exercise regimen. Gender-specific issues should probably be considered. The field of behavioural cardiology has accumulated a wealth of epidemiological, mechanistic and clinical knowledge that undoubtedly has furthered our understanding about the important role of psychosocial risk factors in patients with a heart disease.