Why Heart Attacks May Lead to Depression

When Todd Monroe, MD, sees one of his patients after a heart attack, he pays careful attention to the health of their heart. But years of experience have also taught him to look beyond the physical. Heart events, in particular, can have a profound effect on a person’s mental and emotional well-being.

In fact, after a heart attack, a person is three times more likely to experience depression. Why? Dr. Monroe says there are many factors, but the gravity of the condition plays a role.

“A cardiac event is a potentially life-ending event. I suspect that after a heart attack, a person will feel a sense of their own mortality,” explains Dr. Monroe.

Patients may also feel confusion, anger or a loss of control, especially if they feel they had a healthy lifestyle prior to their heart attack.

Chronic Conditions & Medication

The type of heart event can also impact the length and severity of depression. For some with chronic heart conditions, the challenges to emotional and mental well-being can be ongoing. “Chronic conditions, such as congenital heart failure, have an impact on what life will be like going forward,” says Dr. Monroe.

Individuals with defibrillators, especially, may develop a phobia of their device. “When a defibrillator goes off, it hurts like a horse kicking you in the chest, explains Dr. Monroe.

Patients may start to feel anxious about the thought of it going off — in the shower, while driving, in a meeting — wherever they may be.

“A cardiologist does everything they can to make sure it doesn’t go off,” says Dr. Monroe, but sometimes, it’s necessary to address the anxiety or depression as well.

Some heart medications, such as beta blockers, can increase a person’s risk for depression as well. Dr. Monroe confirms that this is one of the reasons why cardiologists start patients with a low dose of medication when needed.

Knowing the Signs

Depression or anxiety after a heart event isn’t uncommon and it’s important that patients understand that what they are feeling is very normal. It’s also important that loved ones recognize the signs of depression so they can help. “Signs of depression may include fatigue, lack of ambition,  and a decrease or increase in a person’s sleeping or eating habits,” explains Dr. Monroe.

If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing depression, learn more in this video with Dr. Busha Qureishi from Harbor.