WEDNESDAY, Aug. 22, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds that spouses of heart attack victims are at increased risk for depression, anxiety or suicide, even if their partner survives.
The researchers also found that men are more susceptible than women to depression and suicide after a partner has a heart attack.
Researchers analyzed national data from Denmark on spouses of people who had died or survived after having a heart attack, and spouses of people who were hospitalized or died due to other causes.
More than three times the number of people whose spouses died of a heart attack were using antidepressants in the year after the event, compared with the year before. Nearly 50 times as many people whose spouses died of a heart attack were using medications to treat anxiety.
People whose spouses survived a heart attack had a 17 percent higher use of antidepressants in the year after the event, compared with the year before.
The use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines was higher among people whose spouses died from or survived a heart attack than among those whose spouses were hospitalized or died from other causes.
The American and Danish researchers also found that men were more likely than women to suffer depression and commit suicide after a partner had died from or survived a heart attack, according to the study published online Aug. 22 in the European Heart Journal.
The sudden and unexpected nature of a heart attack may be the reason that it has a greater impact on a spouse than other health problems, the researchers suggested.
"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," study first author Dr. Emil Fosbol said in a journal news release. "The larger psychological impact of a sudden loss is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder."
The findings have major public health implications, as more than seven million people worldwide suffer a heart attack each year, with about 16 percent of them dying within a month, the researchers said.
"This could mean that around 11,000 people would be likely to start antidepressants after a spouse's non-fatal (heart attack), and 35,000 after their spouse died from (a heart attack). Moreover, although suicide rates were low, we could expect approximately 1,400 people to take their own life in the year following a spouse's death from a heart attack," Fosbol said.
The American Heart Association has more about heart attack.