Health warning for partners of heart attack sufferers
Partners of people who suffer a sudden heart attack have an increased risk of depression or suicide compared to those whose partners die from or survive other illnesses, experts have found.
Men are more likely to suffer from a major mental health issue after their partner has a heart attack, even if they survive, than women.
Doctors believe the reason for the risk is due to the shock someone feels when their partner suddenly faces a potentially fatal illness which they say can lead to symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.
They say the findings show partners need to receive appropriate care and attention from medical staff in a bid to lessen their chances of suffering from serious depression.
Study leader Dr Emil Fosbol, a cardiologist from Copenhagen, Denmark, looked at a ten-year period of anti-depressant use in people whose partners had suffered a heart attack and lived, those who had died and those who had suffered other illnesses.
He said: “We found more than three times the number of people whose spouses died from an acute myocardial infarction [AMI] were using anti-depressants in the year after the event compared with the year before.
“In addition, nearly 50 times as many spouses used a benzodiazepine after the event compared to before.
“Those whose spouse survived an AMI had a 17 per cent higher use of anti-depressants after the event, whereas spouses of patients surviving some other, non-AMI related condition had an unchanged use of antidepressants after the event compared to before.
“Overall, the rates of depression were significantly higher after the event in the fatal AMI group and in the fatal non-AMI group. We also found men were more likely to suffer depression and commit suicide after an event than women.”
The researchers, who carried out their work at North Carolina’s Duke University, believe it is the unexpected nature of a heart attack which causes the extreme impact on a partner.
Dr Fosbol said: “If your partner dies suddenly from a heart attack, you have no time to prepare psychologically for the death, whereas if someone is ill with, for example, cancer then there is more time to grow used to the idea.
“The larger psychological impact of a sudden loss is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Heart disease is Scotland’s biggest killer. Every 15 minutes, someone in the country suffers a heart attack and at least one in five will die as a result.
The study, published online in the European Heart Journal, found around one per cent of partners was found to have taken their lives in the year following a spouse’s death from a heart attack.
Dr Fosbol said: “This is a major public health issue for which there seems to be very little awareness among doctors and policy makers.
“I think the most important finding of this study is that the system needs to consider the care needs for spouses too, not only when a patient dies from an AMI, but also when the patient is admitted to hospital with an AMI and survives.
“I believe treatment of an acute event also should include screening the spouse for possible psychological effects and a plan should be in place for how to take care of this, if indeed the spouse is severely affected.”
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