A recent article on the New York Times wellness blog said heart attacks may have dramatic consequences for your mental health as well as your physical health.
“The emotional toll of a heart attack can be so severe that an estimated 1 in 8 patients who survive the experience develop post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that doubles the risk of dying of a second heart attack, according to new research,” the article said.
While his focus is the function of the heart, Marshfield Clinic cardiologist Dr. Rohit Srivastava said he does see patients that battle mental health issues after a heart attack.
“The literature suggests you can have fairly significant anxiety in about 25-30 percent of post-heart attack patients,” he said. “Emotional issues can be seen a year or more after the heart attack.”
Why mental health issues arise after a heart attack
Srivastava pointed to a couple factors that may create the emotional trauma that comes with a heart attack. One factor is the suddenness with which heart attacks can occur. Another factor is how dramatically a heart attack can change a person’s life, as they may need surgery or have to make major lifestyle changes.
“I think more should be done to address the mental health component of a heart attack when the patient is in the rehabilitation phase,” Srivastava said. “Understanding the patient’s perspective, and discussing the potential mental health issues after a heart attack with the patient, is important.”
Talk with your care team
Srivastava said by having a discussion with patients, a cardiologist can decide if a referral to behavioral health is appropriate. He added that a patient’s primary care provider may be better equipped than a cardiologist to determine if the patient is in need of a referral to behavioral health.
Srivastava said some patients do not want to discuss mental health issues, and if that is the case, the patient’s family can play an important role in bringing that discussion to the attention of care providers.
“The emotional component of such an event can be pretty devastating,” Srivastava said. “Patients should not hesitate to contact their primary care physicians, their cardiology team or their behavioral health provider if they have one already.”
If you or a family member is experiencing mental health effects after a heart attack, talk with a primary care provider.