Immediately following a heart attack, most patients are focused on getting back on their feet and taking control of their physical health. But that’s not all there is to consider; mental health is an often-overlooked aspect of recovery from a heart attack or other cardiac event.
According to a scientific statement by the American Heart Association (Circulation, February 2014), approximately one in five patients hospitalized with a heart attack meet the criteria for depression, a rate that is five times the rate of depression in the general population. With statistics like that, it’s clear that patients’ mental health post-heart attack can’t afford to be ignored.
“Depression is common after heart attacks and is now recognized as a risk factor for adverse outcomes after coronary events,” explains John Steers, MD, cardiologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital, Main Line Health.
Experiencing depression after a heart attack isn’t just emotionally difficult for patients; it’s also bad for their health.
“After a heart attack, sadness is common, but depression is more than just being sad. Depression can have a variety of physiological effects and can actually increase the risk for having another heart attack. It can also make it difficult to follow your treatment and rehabilitation program," says Dr. Steers.
So, what can doctors and patients do to help address the issue?
The most important step for both doctors and patients is to be on the lookout for symptoms of depression, including:
- Depressed mood most of the day (feeling sad or empty, frequently tearful)
- Significantly diminished interest or pleasure in activities
- Significant weight loss without dieting, weight gain, or an increase or decrease in appetite
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (can’t sleep or sleeping too much)
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
“After a heart attack, it’s normal to take time to get back on your feet and take things a little more slowly, but when you begin to lose interest in the things you enjoyed and have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, that’s when it becomes time to seek help” says Dr. Steers.
If you’re experiencing symptoms like these after a heart attack in yourself, a friend or loved one, the first step is scheduling a visit with a primary care doctor, who can administer a depression screening test. Remember not to wait too long before seeking help, the sooner you’re diagnosed, the sooner your physician team can begin addressing the problem.