An unmet need for integrated mental health services for female cardiac patients

By Megan Mayerle, PhD

September 4, 2019

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death of American women. Interestingly, women with CHD are 2 to 3 times as likely to experience anxiety or depression as men, and women who experience depression or anxiety are also more likely to have higher CHD recurrence rates and be rehospitalized. However, few studies have closely examined the mental health disorders found among women cardiac patients.

To address this problem, a team of scientists and clinicians led by Stanford Cardiovascular Institute member Dr. Jennifer Tremmel recently published a study in the American Journal of Cardiology examining the mental well-being of women receiving treatment at a women’s heart health clinic.

The researchers used standardized self-report questionnaires to gather their data. This survey was completed by 117 women scheduled for medical visits at an outpatient women’s heart health clinic over 4 months. Of the women surveyed, 38% scored in the moderate-to-severe range for at least 1 mental disorder, and 50% were experiencing insomnia. They also experienced clinical depression and anxiety rates at significantly higher rates than male or mixed gender comparison groups. Interestingly, though the researchers did not detect a relationship between the severity of cardiac problems and the degree of psychological distress, women with hyperlipidemia, prediabetes, and diabetes reported greater psychological distress than those without. In addition, women from lower income households also experienced more mental health issues.

Only about half of the women in the study who reported psychological distress received any sort of mental health treatment, suggesting that there is an unmet need for integrated mental health services for female cardiac patients.

Dr. Jennifer Tremmel