While depression is common among heart attack survivors, their spouses can also be hit hard.
According to a new study, spouses of heart attack victims are at greater risk of depression, anxiety or suicide, and men are more likely than women to become depressed or commit suicide, American and Danish researchers found.
Even if a husband or wife survives a heart attack, the spouse suffers more than do spouses of people who survive or die from other conditions, the study showed.
Danish cardiologist and researcher Emil Fosbol, M.D., said the suddenness of a heart attack may be a factor.
"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, there is more time to grow used to the idea," Fosbol said in a prepared statement.
He called the psychological impact of such a sudden loss "similar to post-traumatic stress disorder."
In the study, researchers analyzed national data from Denmark, comparing spouses of people who had died or survived after having a heart attack with spouses of people who had died or been hospitalized because of other causes.
Use of antidepressants and antianxiety medicines was higher among people whose spouses died from or survived a heart attack, researchers noted.
"We found that more than three times the number of people whose spouses died from [a heart attack] were using antidepressants in the year after the event compared with the year before," researchers said.
Spouses of people who survived heart attacks were 17 percent more likely to use an antidepressant in the year following the event, while spouses of patients surviving other diseases were no more likely to use antidepressants.
Researchers also found that men were more likely than women to suffer depression and commit suicide after their spouse had a heart attack.
The study's findings are important because of what they reveal about the family members of a heart attack patient, Fosbol said.
"I think ... that the system needs to consider the care needs for spouses, too, not only when a patient dies from [a heart attack] but also when the patient is 'just' admitted to the hospital and survives."
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