A new Danish study suggests that spouses of people who have had heart attacks are more likely to use antidepressants and to feel the effects of stress and anxiety quite heavily. The study showed that after a year, those people who lost a spouse to a heart attack were three times more likely to start using antidepressants.
The study also showed that even if the partner survived the heart attack, spouses were about 17% more likely to be on antidepressants than a year before the incident. The BBC notes that men were more susceptible to symptoms of depression than female spouses.
The study involved looking at national registries in Denmark. The researchers studied 16,506 spouses of people who died from a sudden heart attack, and 44,566 spouses of people who survived a sudden heart attack. They then examined the medical records of the spouses right after the event and through the year after the event in order to ascertain how many spouses started taking antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.
The study is the first to analyze the way spouses respond to sudden heart attacks and the results show a shockingly high level of emotional disruption in spouses. Researchers speculate the mental and emotional health of supportive family members is particularly fragile because of the unexpected nature of most heart attacks.
Although the study only looks at the Danish population, the results are particularly pertinent in the United States. CBS News points out that about 785,000 people have a coronary attack each year in the United States alone. Heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
A study conducted earlier this year showed that many heart attack survivors are susceptible to PTSD. The combination of PTSD and surviving a heart attack put those victims at greater risk of death, that study found. This newest study also adds weight to the reality that family members also suffer physical and emotional trauma from coronary attacks.
Dr. Emil Fosbol from the Duke University Medical Center told the BBC:
This is a major public health issue for which there seems to be very little awareness among doctors and policy makers.
The most important finding of this study is that the system needs to consider the care needs for the spouses too, not only when a patient dies from a [sudden heart attack], but also when the patient is ‘just admitted’ to hospital [after a sudden heart attack] and survives.