Mental health & Cardiac issues

The Surprising Link Between Mental Health & Cardiac Issues

Recovery from a cardiac condition or procedure goes beyond physical as the mental and emotional aspects of the healing process are equally important – yet often overlooked. It’s worth noting that mental health disorders can arise after a person experiences cardiac health problems.

Depression in heart surgery patients results in a slow recovery process, and cardiac rehabilitation programs – a crucial aspect of recuperation – can become challenging due to their weakened mental state. Even more grave, a  study published in the European Heart Journal – Quality of Care and Clinical Outcomes indicates that a depression diagnosis following a cardiac event can lead to a high mortality risk [1].

In terms of numbers, studies have shown that individuals who have undergone aortic heart valve replacement or heart bypass surgery are at high risk for developing depression or anxiety, with reported percentages ranging from 30% to 40%.

Depending on the case type and severity, different cardiac experiences can present varying physical and mental health risks. Heart attack survivors, whose blood flow to the heart has been obstructed, may experience chest pain or difficulty breathing and require immediate medical action. Moreover, experts believe that 1 in 8 heart attack survivors face post-traumatic stress or PTSD.

A study also reveals that individuals who encounter minor strokes report feelings of terror, and almost a quarter of survivors report symptoms of PTSD one year after their stroke [2]. People with this experience may exhibit anxiety, hypervigilance, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping. Intrinsically, they may avoid situations or actions that trigger memories of their traumatic event.

Medical experts state heart surgery may also trigger cognitive difficulties and mental health concerns. Extended hospital stays can result in the development of post-hospital syndrome or post-ICU syndrome, which encompasses an array of physical and psychological symptoms.

However, it’s important to know that mental health challenges stemming from cardiac conditions can also affect caregivers. While family members may want to aid the patient’s recovery, they may also feel overwhelmed by their lack of control. Moreover, minors might be unaware that they could inherit the condition, which can lead to concerns about their well-being.

Most out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen at home, so family members are likely the first to respond by calling 911 and administering CPR. In this scenario, they may stress about whether their loved one will still wake up and face difficult decisions.

Witnesses of traumatic events – often close family members – struggle with memories and symptoms of PTSD, such as flashbacks. Despite survivors facing existential concerns about the future, their family members may experience higher levels of distress than cardiac arrest survivors.

How To Tackle These Challenges

Cardiac rehabilitation is a valuable tool for patients facing heart-related issues. This unique program offers stress and emotional factors education, supervised exercise, and emotional support from experienced staff. Moreover, research shows that exercise is a beneficial way to alleviate symptoms of moderate depression.

Through cardiac rehab, patients can receive the support they need to manage their condition and improve their overall well-being. It also allows connecting with other patients and sharing their experiences. Through these interactions, they can learn more about the recovery process and gain reassurance that others share their emotional responses and coping mechanisms, ultimately normalizing and easing the recovery experience.

Alternatively, consulting with a cardiologist or primary care physician can provide patients with therapist recommendations. On the other hand, they can reintegrate daily routines into their lives. Following a cardiac condition, they may not be able to perform the same activities as before, and everyday activities such as getting up, dressing, and preparing breakfast are significant and should not be overlooked.


[1] “Depression Increases the Risk of Mortality in Patients with Heart Failure: A Meta-Analysis”

[2] “Poststroke Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”