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The Upbeat Heart

Having a positive outlook may help stem the risk of recurring coronary problems, according to a study released Monday.

The study, which appears in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, looked at nearly 300 patients who had undergone an angioplasty -- a procedure in which a balloon-like device is used to relieve arterial blockage.

Patients with lower measures of self-esteem, optimism and feelings of control over their lives were more likely to experience a second blockage within six months than those with better attitudes, according to the study.

"Our study certainly suggests that health care professionals can try to identify people who are at risk for subsequent events and perhaps monitor their behavior," said Vicki Helgeson, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University who directed the study.

Researchers questioned 292 angioplasty patients to measure their feelings of self-esteem, optimism and control. Patients were then divided into three groups based on their scores.

Follow-up visits showed that in 20 percent of the patients, arteries began to close again within six months, a condition known as "restenosis."

According to the study, of the third that scored the highest on the attitude tests, less than 10 percent reported a second coronary problem. Correspondingly, of those who scored the lowest on the tests, more than 29 percent reported experiencing restenosis.

Helgeson said she looked for other indicators, such as age, education, occupation and race, but could find no correlation as strong as the one seen with the attitudinal measurements.

The study has its limitations, however. The researchers could only collect data on the patients who reported restenosis others could have experienced it and not known it or kept the information from their doctors.

Martha Hill, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and past president of the American Heart Association, said the study is another example of why medical research must take social factors and behavior -- as well as physiological indicators into account.

Past studies have shown that people with depression may suffer more heart problems. This, she said, appears to show the inverse is also true.

"One reason we have a big problem now ... is that our studies have been too narrow," Hill said. "This is another piece of information that tells us the psychological variables are important."

Written By Todd Spangler