Heart disease patients who become depressed may double their risk of early death

After a heart attack or heart surgery, it’s common to go through a period of sadness or grief.

These feelings are natural, as you face physical challenges and fears about your future, said Dr. Richard Smith, a cardiologist at Mon Health Heart & Vascular Center.

“The American Heart Association has found that as many as one in five heart attack survivors develop some degree of depression,” said Smith. “How long it lasts and how crippling it can be signals whether someone is processing natural feelings or slipping into a depressed state.”

If sadness turns into depression, that’s a serious concern that may very well shorten your life.

A study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting last year showed heart disease patients diagnosed with depression were twice as likely to die in the following decade, compared to heart patients not diagnosed with depression.

The American Heart Association recommends cardiologists screen heart attack patients for depression. Primary care providers will also screen for depression, and can refer patients to mental health providers.

What’s the difference between sadness and depression?

Most people bounce back from a period of sadness brought on by a life-altering event like a heart attack. But depression is excessive sadness that interferes with your ability to function.

Signs to look for include:

  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness or recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Inability to resume activities or loss of enjoyment from activities
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Continued fatigue, irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

Why is depression bad for your heart health?

Depressed people in general are at increased risk for heart disease, Dr. Smith said.

In cardiac patients, depression may interfere with physical recovery because they are less likely to take care of themselves.

Cardiac rehab includes aerobic exercise, which has been shown to relieve symptoms of depression.

Smith offers these suggestions for patients recovering from heart attack or heart surgery:

  • Focus on resuming normal daily activities
  • Follow the prescribed exercise regimen and dietary guidelines
  • Resume hobbies and other enjoyable activities
  • Try relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or meditation
  • Stay connected with family and friends
  • Find a support group
  • Ask your doctor for help

Don’t ignore the warning signs of depression. Instead, talk to your primary care doctor or cardiologist.

Learn more about the Mon Health Heart & Vascular Center or schedule an appointment at 304-599-8802.

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