Mental Health May Play a Big Role in Recovery After a Heart Attack

Aug 15, 2023 | Mental Health, Stress

A study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 70th Annual Scientific Session revealed that young and middle-aged adults who experienced severe psychological distress after suffering a heart attack were more than twice as likely to have a second cardiac event within five years compared to those with only mild distress. This comprehensive study sheds light on the influence of mental health on the outlook of younger individuals who have survived a heart attack, supporting previous research on the importance of addressing mental health in heart attack recovery.

The Role of Mental Health in the Recovery of Younger Heart Attack Survivors

Lead author Mariana Garcia, MD, a cardiology fellow at Emory University, Atlanta, highlighted the significance of regular psychological assessments, especially among younger patients. She emphasized the need to explore treatment modalities beyond traditional medical therapy and cardiac rehabilitation to alleviate psychological distress, such as meditation, relaxation techniques, and holistic approaches.

Comprehensive Study Analyzing Psychological Distress and Inflammatory Markers

The researchers analyzed health outcomes in 283 heart attack survivors aged 18 to 61, with an average age of 51. Participants completed validated questionnaires within six months of their heart attack, measuring depression, anxiety, anger, perceived stress, and posttraumatic stress disorder. The researchers established a composite score of psychological distress and grouped patients into categories of mild, moderate, and high distress.

Importance of Psychological Assessments and Treatment Modalities for Young Heart Attack Survivors

Within five years, 80 out of the 283 patients experienced subsequent heart attacks, strokes, hospitalization for heart failure, or cardiovascular-related death. High distress was associated with a significantly higher occurrence of these outcomes (47%) compared to mild distress (22%). The study also revealed that patients with high distress had elevated levels of inflammatory markers, including interleukin-6 and monocyte chemoattract protein-1, known to contribute to plaque buildup in arteries and adverse cardiac events.

Associations Between Psychological Distress, Inflammatory Markers, and Cardiovascular Outcomes

The findings suggest that psychological distress may trigger inflammatory mechanisms that contribute to plaque rupture and subsequent cardiac events. These associations remained independent of known cardiovascular risk factors, emphasizing the potential role of systemic inflammation in response to stress.

Socioeconomic and Demographic Factors in Relation to Psychological Distress

Patients experiencing high distress were more likely to be of African-American descent, female, and from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background. They also had higher rates of smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure. These findings underscore the influence of socioeconomic status and raise questions about the impact of race, sex, and other factors on psychological distress among heart attack survivors.

Addressing Mental Health as a Vital Component of Heart Attack Recovery

The researchers plan to further investigate the influence of socioeconomic and demographic factors on mental health in young heart attack survivors. It is essential to improve outcomes in this population as recent studies indicate an increasing proportion of heart attacks occurring in younger adults, particularly women. The study emphasizes the need for increased awareness of mental health among heart attack survivors and emphasizes the significance of addressing psychological distress as an integral part of the recovery process.

It is important to note that this observational study cannot establish causation, and self-reported psychological distress may be subject to recall bias. Despite the relatively small sample size, the study demonstrated a robust association using a prospective design.

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