Depression After a Heart Attack
Depression is common after a heart attack. Why does it happen and what can you do about it?

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Depression After a Heart Attack

You may feel many emotions after having a heart attack. It's not uncommon to feel powerless, out of control and depressed.

Major depression occurs in heart attack sufferers three times more often than it does the general population. And that doesn't include those heart attack patients who show symptoms of depression, but who do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of major depression. If you have symptoms of depression, it is important to get treatment. Not only will you feel better, but also the treatment may help reduce your risk for another heart attack later.

Why depression occurs after a heart attack
Depression can be triggered by major stressful events. A heart attack can be a major event in your life and can cause you to be stressed in several ways. Your heart problems may make you afraid of dying. You might feel anxious about the chance of having another heart attack. Or you may have a hard time adjusting to changes in your lifestyle that may be needed after a heart attack.

It's also possible you had symptoms of depression before your heart attack. Studies suggest depression can lead to a decline in physical and mental health, making you more susceptible to heart disease or heart attack.

Are you depressed?
Depression should be diagnosed and treated by a health care provider. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Loss of interest in things that used to bring pleasure, including sex
  • Feelings of sadness or emptiness that won't go away
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Speaking and moving slowly
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Aches and pains that don't respond to treatment
  • Thoughts of suicide.

If you feel that you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself or someone else, CALL 911 or your local emergency services immediately.

The importance of treatment
Depression is a serious medical condition. Untreated depression can lead to other problems. And it can hinder your recovery from a heart attack. Depressed people are not as likely to quit smoking, exercise and take their medications as prescribed. The result: A greater danger of a subsequent heart attack and death. But depression is very treatable.

Here are some things you can do to be active in your recovery:

  • Be open to talking with your health care team about symptoms of depression. They may give you a short screening test. Your doctor may prescribe medication. You may benefit from talking to a professional counselor or therapist.
  • You may want to join a support group to talk about life after a heart attack.
  • Follow the cardiac rehabilitation plan that your doctor has outlined for you. Many aspects of your rehab can also help with symptoms of depression. Aerobic activity, for instance, can be good for both your cardiac recovery and your mental health.
  • Seek out a trusted friend or family member to talk to when you're distressed or fearful. Sharing your feelings could have a healing effect.

It can be important for both your physical and mental health to resume normal activities as soon as you can after a heart attack. Check with your doctor about when you can safely start activity and doing the things you enjoy. Many heart attack sufferers can get back into a healthy routine in just a few weeks.

While you are recovering, try to remain optimistic about your efforts. Research has shown that patients with a positive outlook are more likely to avoid illness and death after a heart attack.

Note: If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, call your health care professional, 911 or a suicide hotline such as 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), or have someone drive you to your nearest emergency department.

By Emily Gurnon, Contributing Writer
Created on 07/02/2008
Updated on 09/24/2013
  • Williams RB. Depression after heart attack. Circulation. 2011; 123(25):e639-40.
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Life after a heart attack.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. What is depression?
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