A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

PTSD after heart attacks and other mental health concerns

Close up of two people holding hands trying to get through PTSD after heart attack

Family can play an important role in helping heart attack patients talk about their emotions.

An article on the New York Times wellness blog said heart attacks may have dramatic consequences for your mental health, including developing post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD after heart attack.

“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.

Marshfield Clinic cardiologist Dr. Shereif Rezkalla said he does see patients that battle mental health issues, such as PTSD, after a heart attack.

“The literature suggests you can have fairly significant anxiety in about 25-30 percent of post-heart attack patients,” Rezkalla said. “Emotional issues can be seen a year or more after the heart attack.”

Why mental health issues arise after a heart attack

Rezkalla 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,” Rezkalla 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

Rezkalla 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.

Rezkalla 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,” Rezkalla 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.

Related Shine365 articles

Patient story: Cardiac rehabilitation key to strengthening heart

Heart stress tests: What do they show?

Broken heart syndrome: You can die of a broken heart

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