Spouses of heart attack victims more prone to anxiety and depression because shock is similar to post traumatic stress disorder

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UPDATED:

23:27 GMT, 21 August 2012

Spouses of heart attack victims are at high risk of anxiety, depression and suicide because the shock is similar to post traumatic stress disorder, according to research.

Men are more susceptible than women to the phenomenon which persists even if their partner survives, say scientists.

The study shows for the first time that a heart attack is a bigger psychological blow to the victim’s wife or husband than any other illness and flags up the need for providing them with care and attention.

Spouses stressed after heart attack

The unexpected nature of heart attacks is said to cause extreme stress in spouses of the victim, according to new research

They suffer more than spouses of
people who die from, or survive, other conditions, according to the
findings published online in the European Heart Journal.

Using Danish registries, the
researchers compared 16,506 spouses of people who died from a heart
attack between 1997 and 2008 with 49,518 spouses of people who died from
other causes.

They also looked at the use of
anti-depressants and benzodiazepines used for treating anxiety before
and up to a year after the event, records of contact with the health
system for depression and suicide.

Copenhagen cardiologist Dr Emil
Fosbol said they found 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.

Posed picture of a man being rushed to an operating theatre

The sudden onset of a heart attack can be a shock to partners who realise how much care is now needed

In addition, nearly 50 times as many spouses used a benzodiazepine after the event compared to before.

He added that overall, the rates of depression were significantly higher after the event in the fatal heart attack group.

The researchers believe it is the
sudden and unexpected nature of a heart attack that causes the more
extreme impact on the spouse.

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, 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.’