Behavioral medicine is a specialty area within the profession of psychology that focuses on treating patients with medical conditions. Many medical problems, including digestive disorders, chronic pain, asthma, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, are often linked with behavioral and psychological factors that affect the onset, course and recovery of these disorders.
Cardiac psychology is a newer specialty area that addresses the lifestyle factors that can promote the development of heart disease and that can interfere with the successful treatment of diagnosed heart disease.
Cardiologists and cardiac surgeons excel at treating life-threatening cardiac events with medication, state-of-the-art medical equipment and surgical procedures. These physicians are also highly aware of the lifestyle factors that influence heart disease because they often recommend that patients stop smoking, lose weight, decrease stress levels and begin exercising.
It is the role of the cardiac psychologist* to help patients and their families develop and maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle in order to prevent the occurrence of heart disease and/or reduce the risk of additional cardiac events once heart disease has been diagnosed.
Cardiac psychologists are involved in primary prevention which refers to preventing heart disease in patients who have risk factors but have not yet been with heart disease. These risk factors include family history, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sedentary lifestyle, stress, diabetes, lack of social support, anxiety, depression, excess alcohol use and overweight/obesity. When these risk factors are treated effectively, heart disease can be prevented or delayed.
Cardiac psychologists are also involved in secondary prevention, or in treating risk factors after the diagnosis of heart disease. Secondary prevention also involves treating patients following medical/surgical procedures for heart disease such as catheterization, angioplasty and bypass graft surgery. The focus of treatment here is to reduce the progression of heart disease and/or to reduce the risk of another cardiac event.
Improving the quality of life for cardiac patients and their families is a primary goal of treatment. Psychological intervention serves to reduce the high levels of anxiety, depression and hostility cardiac patients often experience. Successful treatment results in more satisfying lives for the patient as well as the family.
At Lees Psychological Services, we provide the specialized treatment for the prevention of heart disease when risk factors are present, for patients preparing to undergo cardiac procedures or surgery and for patients and their families following major cardiac surgery.
*The term “cardiac psychologist” is used to refer to doctoral level psychologists and to master’s level psychotherapists who have appropriate training in order to reduce wordiness.