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Mental Health Screen Could Gauge Heart Risk


Brown researchers find that a brief questionnaire for psychological distress can be an efficient way to assess patient risk for cardiovascular disease.

Screening for psychological distress can be an effective way to assess a patient’s risk for cardiovascular disease, a new study shows—and it can be done easily and efficiently.

A meta-analysis that included more than 600,000 patients across 28 studies showed that psychological distress assessed with brief questionnaires was associated with a nearly 30 percent greater risk of cardiovascular disease. The results were published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention.

Study co-author Carly Goldstein, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior (research), says the findings indicate that a brief mental health questionnaire during a routine appointment can assess not only those risks, but also associated risk for cardiovascular disease.

A provider’s recommendations to improve mental health may also help cardiovascular health, she says.

“This analysis shows that a patient’s psychological distress is directly associated with their cardiovascular risk, providing opportunities for clinicians to help a patient manage their risks over time, for better overall health, right at the point of care,” she says.

The findings follow updated guidelines from the American Heart Association that expand the checklist of health and lifestyle factors for optimal cardiovascular health. The researchers note that while “healthy sleep” was added as an essential aspect of good heart health, “managing stress and mental health” was not.

“There is a solid amount of evidence indicating that individuals who have high psychological distress tend to do worse with the other factors on the checklist,” says co-author Emily Gathright, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior. “Our study is part of the accumulating evidence that psychological distress is a really important factor in a cardiovascular diagnosis, such as the other health behaviors and risk factors, like physical activity and cholesterol levels, that clinicians monitor.”


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