Background: Psychological interventions can form part of comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation programmes (CCR). These interventions may include stress management interventions, which aim to reduce stress, either as an end in itself or to reduce risk for further cardiac events in patients with heart disease.
Objectives: To determine the effectiveness of psychological interventions, in particular stress management interventions, on mortality and morbidity, psychological measures, quality of life, and modifiable cardiac risk factors, in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD).
Search strategy: We searched CCTR to December 2001 (Issue 4, 2001), MEDLINE 1999 to December 2001 and EMBASE 1998 to the end of 2001, PsychINFO and CINAHL to December 2001. In addition, searches of reference lists of papers were made and expert advice was sought.
Selection criteria: RCTs of non-pharmacological psychological interventions, administered by trained staff, either single modality interventions or a part of CCR with minimum follow up of 6 months. Adults of all ages with CHD (prior myocardial infarction, coronary artery bypass graft or percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty, angina pectoris or coronary artery disease defined by angiography). Stress management (SM) trials were identified and reported in combination with other psychological interventions and separately.
Data collection and analysis: Studies were selected, and data were abstracted, independently by two reviewers. Authors were contacted where possible to obtain missing information.
Main results: Thirty six trials with 12,841 patients were included. Of these, 18 (5242 patients) were SM trials. Quality of many trials was poor with the majority not reporting adequate concealment of allocation, and only 6 blinded outcome assessors. Combining the results of all trials showed no strong evidence of effect on total or cardiac mortality, or revascularisation. There was a reduction in the number of non-fatal reinfarctions in the intervention group (OR 0.78 (0.67, 0.90), but the two largest trials (with 4809 patients randomized) were null for this outcome, and there was statistical evidence of publication bias. Similar results were seen for the SM subgroup of trials. Provision of any psychological intervention or SM intervention caused small reductions in anxiety and depression. Few trials reported modifiable cardiac risk factors or quality of life.
Reviewers' conclusions: Overall psychological interventions showed no evidence of effect on total or cardiac mortality, but did show small reductions in anxiety and depression in patients with CHD. Similar results were seen for SM interventions when considered separately. However, the poor quality of trials, considerable heterogeneity observed between trials and evidence of significant publication bias make the pooled finding of a reduction in non-fatal myocardial infarction insecure.