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Cardiac rehabilitation: the role of psychological intervention

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2014

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A coronary event has major psychological, as well as physical, consequences. The recent British Cardiac Society's Working Party Report on Cardiac Rehabilitation acknowledges the importance of comprehensive rehabilitation programmes incorporating a psychological input. Psychological intervention as part of cardiac rehabilitation serves two purposes: to maximise psychosocial recovery, including return to customary activities such as work and sexual relationships, and to facilitate the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. The latter involves providing behavioural change strategies for a range of lifestyle factors from stress identification and management, through dietary, smoking and physical activity change, to increasing adherence to medication regimes.

Psychological interventions have proven successful in decreasing general morbidity in the year after coronary events and in reducing reinfarction-related mortality. Little is understood about the mechanisms by which psychological interventions may operate. However, a recent seminal study of intensive lifestyle modification in cardiac patients has demonstrated that it is possible to achieve regression of atherosclerosis (although the authors themselves caution that their intensive methods are unlikely to be applicable in most patient settings). More general discussion of the relationship between psychological factors and coronary disease is available. With regard to enhancement of psychosocial recovery, early work documented positive effects of exercise-only programmes on psychosocial functioning.

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