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Major research project will examine the link between heart and mind

Professor Selina Kikkenborg Berg, research leader of the project "Heart and Mind", at the Heart Centre of Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen. The project is funded by a grant of DKK 7.5 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s nursing research programme.

How does the mind influence heart disease?

This key question is the focus of a major new research project, Heart and Mind, that will examine the link between mental health and heart disease, funded by a grant of DKK 7.5 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s nursing research programme.

Recent Danish nursing research has shown that people with heart disease who have anxiety are twice as likely to die after 1 year as other people with heart disease. However, research has focused more on other risk factors such as exercise, cholesterol and smoking. Mental risk factors have not been examined to the same extent.

“Doctors typically focus on diagnosing and treating people with disease, whereas clinical nursing research examines what happens to people when they are ill. Now it turns out that mental factors may influence heart disease, and we will investigate this further,” says Selina Kikkenborg Berg, research leader of the project and Professor at the Heart Centre of Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen. ”We will also investigate whether cognitive therapy can reduce anxiety among people with heart disease,” she adds.

Researchers have known for many years about broken heart syndrome: sudden weakness of the heart muscle following major emotional trauma. This is a serious condition requiring hospitalization. Most people survive, but some die. Heart and Mind will examine people diagnosed with the syndrome – both retrospectively through registries and prospectively through interviews over 1 year to monitor the link between mental health and heart disease.

The project will also focus on a neglected research cohort: children who have a parent with heart disease. More than 50,000 children in Denmark have a parent with heart disease.

“The project will also examine how parental heart disease affects these children. We will do this in collaboration with Norwegian and Swedish research groups. We will investigate how a parent’s heart disease can affect, for example, a child’s long-term school performance and illness. We will also interview children in Denmark, Norway and Sweden to incorporate qualitative research methods,” says Selina Kikkenborg Berg.

The Foundation awarded the grant under its new nursing research programme, which was established in 2016 with the aim of achieving better treatment results through such efforts as disease prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care. The Foundation has earmarked DKK 37.5 million for the programme to fund grants for five research projects of DKK 7.5 million each over 5 years.

Niels-Henrik von Holstein-Rathlou, Head of Research and Innovation Grants, Novo Nordisk Foundation, says: “We want to provide nursing researchers the opportunity to demonstrate significant, international and interesting research results that can significantly contribute to improving people’s health, quality of life and life expectancy.”

The aim of the programme is to strengthen clinical nursing research in Denmark by providing opportunities to experienced research leaders in clinical nursing to carry out major research projects and thereby achieve substantial research results that have broad research and clinical value.

Selina Kikkenborg Berg is leading the project, which will be carried out in close collaboration with Martin Balslev Jørgensen, Clinical Associate Professor, Rigshospitalet; Jesper Hastrup Svendsen, Professor, Rigshospitalet and University of Copenhagen; Anna Strömberg, Professor, Linköping University and Adjunct Professor, University of Southern Denmark; Signe Risom, PhD, Rigshospitalet; and Knud Juel, Professor Emeritus, University of Southern Denmark.

The project will collaborate widely with researchers at hospitals throughout Denmark.

Further information

Christian Mostrup Scheel, Senior Press Officer, phone: +45 3067 4805, [email protected]