The Realities of Cardiac Depression after Open Heart Surgery

I just received an interesting email from Carol that directly relates to heart surgery recovery. Carol writes, “Hi Adam – My husband had mitral valve replacement three weeks ago. I’m curious… Did you experience depression after heart valve surgery? Is it common for patients to experience cardiac depression following heart valve repair or heart valve replacement?”

Let me start by answering Carol’s first question. Yes, I did experience both heart surgery and depression. I had my pulmonary and aortic valves replaced in 2005. As for cardiac depression, I did not have any immediate form of depression during my 5 days in the hospital or during the first three weeks following my heart valve replacement surgery recovery. However, as I entered into my fourth week of recovery, I did begin to experience many symptoms of this post-operative condition.

Man Experiencing Cardiac Depression After Surgery

Needless to say, this was not a very fun time in my life. Pre-surgery, I was a very upbeat person. For me, the glass was always “half-full”. I’m an optimist that believes anything is possible. Post-surgery, however, I was exactly the opposite. I was lethargic, anxious, confused, pessimistic and isolated. I was also having issues sleeping.

What a miserable experience for me and all of my caregivers, especially my fiance (Robyn). I was a mess. And, my family… I don’t know how they put up with me!!! Thank goodness those dark days are lonnnnnnnnnnng gone.

To better understand cardiac depression, I researched the this topic for my book. I created a survey that was completed by many former heart valve surgery patients. As you would imagine, several survey questions directly related to depression.

The survey results are very, very, very interesting. In one of the questions, I asked the former patients, “Did you experience any form of cardiac depression during your recovery?”

Before I give you the results, my previous research suggested that between 30% – 75% of heart surgery patients experience cardiac depression. My research also suggested that more men than women are impacted by depression after heart valve surgery.

With that said, here are the results from my survey. According to the patients surveyed, 32% of patients experienced heart surgery and depression. That’s a pretty significant number.

Chart About Heart Surgery And Mental Depression

Now, the questions become… How do you avoid cardiac depression? And, if you experience this condition after surgery, how do you get your recovery back on track?

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

  • Ben stewart

    This is not a comment just looking for some advice. I met a girl about three months ago and everything was going perfect. She had heart surgery about a month ago and she is very depressed and I know I had something to do with it. I had no idea what the surgery would do to her and I was not patient with her at all. I think I have lost her and I guess what I am asking is this. I want to understand what she is going through and what I can do to be helpful. Right now she will not talk to me, but I am praying that will change. If anyone could help me out, that would be great. thanks.

  • robyn thomson

    I too have lost a partner after his heart surgery-I had not expected his depression and anger -he too wont talk to me and has no contact with me at all -which has devastated me -he is 71 and I am 61 ,I was told to find someone younger ! I thought Id spend the rest of our lives together…….and support him through this process.But I am so scared that he wont change his mind.Ever ! I too am at a loss………help

  • Sally

    Thus subject does not apply just to older patients as we are experiencing this with our 16 year old daughter as well. She is also depressed and angry, after a PFO closure procedure done to correct a hole in her heart about a month ago. As the author of the book stated, it seems the 4th week is the worst yet. But prior to learning that she had a hole in her heart, we were first told she had a brain tumor, but it turned out she was having small strokes due to clots that were making it through the hole to her brain. But what we do know is that she has had a lot of built up stress and it has been very difficult for her to deal with, and she also had troubles with her boyfriend who didn’t know how to deal with his own fears, so he just avoided her and broke her heart without meaning to. So I think it is a universal experience, and one that doctors should better prepare their patients for going into it, as well as their families.

  • Michelle

    I had mitral valve repair three months and five days ago. I’ve had quite a few complications and I’ve turned very bitter. The first three weeks I was fine. Everyone told me I looked great and I was doing great each time I did anything. I felt euphoric, I faced death and I beat it, I could do anything! Then week 3.5 I was admitted for atrial fibrillation, week 5.5 readjusted for inflammation of my pleural and pericardial tissue. That was a huge blow. I was on new medications with terrible side effects. I could not drive and felt dizzy all the time. I also started feeling anxious all the time, having 30,000 PVCs per day can do that. My husband was great and still is great. He has not pushed me out of my comfort zones, he allows me to recover at my own pace. I try hard not to drive him crazy. At week 8 I felt fantastic, I was going to cardiac rehab, driving myself, doing things around the house, and going to school. I was on top of the world. Then one week ago I was back in the ER with chest wall inflammation, two days after that with a fever, and two days following that for a new crazy heart beat. Ive fallen off the horse again. Now I’m withdrawing from the dilaudid they had me one and can’t look at my bruised up arms from so many failed IV attempts.

    We talk ourselves up before surgery so that we fear it less, we tell ourselves that we will be fixed up and better than ever. Yes I’m not having heart failure and I can breath well but in the beginning it’s just a trade off. The disappointment is unbearable. The depression is the worst and sometimes we isolate ourselves so we don’t become a burden on others or stop hanging around friends that try to push us past our limits.

  • GF BEDGOOD

    I have had 2 heart valve replacement surgeries since 2001. Depression is REAL, 20 years ago I would have said the opposite. Until you personally experience this evil condition you can not understand the emotional hell your life becomes. It is like a 500 pound weight tugging at your every thought, every waking moment…….

  • michelle

    my husband is a moody man, and some times can be nasty when unhappy. i often become a verbal whipping boy. He is on day three in his recovery form triple bypass and valve repair surgery. I hoped that his near brush with death would change his out look on life, and he’d stop taking so much(me) for granted. He has some fluid build up in his left lung, and is having difficulty breathing. good a reason as any to be nasty. I was already at the end of my rope before. i understand that post operative depression is not uncommon. How soon can this happen? How do i best deal with him when he gets home? signed, already giving up.

  • Vicki Pierson

    Don’t give up, he needs you now more than ever. I’m 6 months post mitral valve repair and I don’t think I’m over the depression yet. I was completely asymptomatic so the diagnosis was a real shock. Not only do I not feel grateful, I feel guilty for not feeling grateful. Physically I feel fine and the operation was a success as far as the heart is concerned, but being a “heart patient” has destroyed my self image. I have traded a symptom-free athletic life for shoulder pain, shortness of breath, and a big scar down the middle of my body. I should be glad that I no longer have to worry about heart failure, but since I didn’t know I would ever need to worry about that, it doesn’t seem like such a great blessing. Intellectually I know I should count my blessings, so that makes it even harder to face my real emotions. This conflict makes me angry, and your husband may have similar feelings. I wish I had known about Adam’s website before surgery- a lot of thing could have been different. When I got my diagnosis, I asked my (now former)cardiologist about support groups, he laughed and said “There’s no need. You just have the surgery and get on with your life.” Boy was he wrong, and I intend to tell him! About Adam’s site, I mean….

  • Susie

    Hi, I am a 49 year old that is 4 weeks post op of aortic valve replacement and ascending aneurysm repair and single bypass. I have been doing pretty well and only had the “blues” briefly off and on but today is 4 weeks to the day of surgery and I am anxious and tearful and now plain sad. Yes I know this is expected but my personality is always up beat, comical if not sarcastic to get through things….my family is amazing and I am just concerned I made need medication to get over the hump of this. I am still dealing with significant pain and midsternal and into my shoulders. Did any of you go on antidepressants briefly or even recommend it? Thank you and I hope you all heal quickly and you are my heros for posting such personal things and helping others…

  • Vicki Pierson

    My family doctor has suggested antidepressants since I am still struggling. Her rationale is that we don’t hesitate to wear glasses if we can’t see, or antibiotics when we have an infection, so there should be no stigma about taking advantage of a tool to help reverse a temporary condition. I have the prescription in my purse but haven’t filled it because I think I’m better off trying to understand why I feel this way so I can learn to live with it (My current theory is that heart surgery doesn’t mesh well with my athletic self image and I need time to rebuild a different image that I can still feel good about.). If depression has just hit you when you were previously cheerful, antidepressants may be right for you. At 4 weeks I was pretty much a zombie and feeling rather sorry for myself, but I had no idea I was actually suffering from depression. Awareness is more than half the solution, and you seem to have identified your problem objectively. I’d suggest that you talk frankly with your doctor about short term antidepressants and see if yours is of the same opinion as mine. Good luck!

  • Susie

    Thanks for the thoughts Vicki I see my doc in 2 days

  • Ed Rutkowski

    After reading Adam’s survey results and the previous comments, I would say that my post heart surgery experiences with regard to depression have been atypical. For years prior to my heart surgery for mitral valve prolapse with severe regurgitation and atrial fribulation I took anti-depressants. Since surgery I have discontinued the anti-depressants and no longer have any of the same feelings of anxiety and “blues” that I experienced for those years prior to my surgery.

    To those who deal with the post-operative depression, my very best wishes. Anxiety about surgery and the aftermath can be daunting, though I had tremendous confidence in my surgeon and the facility that my outcome would be positive. Recovery can be a slow process, and though otherwise very healthy before surgery, a month after my surgery I was hospitalized with some lung issues. I write this only to say that no one should automatically anticipate and worry that post surgical depression will be an inevitable side effect. It seems there is no logic why depression occurs and it is very real and can be overwhelming when it does. But try not to allow yourselves to become depressed anticipating that overcoming depression will automatically be part of your recovery process. In my case, at least, the surgery actually was a cure. God bless.

  • Roberta

    Hi there all. I came upon this by accident. But so glad I did.
    I have bicuspid aortic stenosis with slight regurgatation in all other valves. LV enlargement. Have seen 2 Drs. and both said I need surgery now. I have panic attacks and fear of surgery. Am trying to get help with this, but so far it’s not working. Also degenerative discs in lower lumbar. So pretty much a hot mess. I am a 52 yr old female. I know my Drs. have said nothing about what will happen after surgery. Just, oh you will feel so much better and be right back to normal. Now I see, I was right. It may solve one problem, but can cause others. I really think for them its all about Money, not patients.

  • Susie

    Roberta, I understand your fear…I am so sorry you have such anxiety about surgery. I did too! Being a cardiac nurse and having the surgery where I work added more stress. I just wanted to get in and get it over with! I discussed pain managemnt with my anesthesiologist before surgery and they gave me some medication for anxiety before surgery. Immediate post op was an eye opener but I got through and had great nurses! If you have read any of my other posts I’ve had ” issues” like everyone else but I am now 9 weeks post op and just started swimming too. Suffice it to say…it does get better. You will feel better…I can breath so much better. I hope you find a surgeon you trust and someone to allay your fears to help you go forward. Good luck and I’ll answer any question you have… Susie

  • Roberta

    Thanks for the kind words Susie, So glad you are doing better. I think that for now I am going to waiteven though I was told I had a 50% chance for sudden death. But with my panic attacks and agoraphibia I just can’t bring myself to do this surgery. It is hard enough just getting to an appointment. I know this sounds crazy, but there has never been a Dr that I trust and due to Insurance and no income, I really can’t just go see anyone I want. I don’t have much family support and no friends as I relocated to another state to be closer to family. I am on pain meds for my back problems. antianxiety meds for panic disorder, along with others. The dr did schedule a cardiac cath to be done on the 19th of Jan. I more than likely will cancel due to anxiety. Also I can’t lay flat for hours after due to my back issues. The Dr said , Oh we’ll give you fentanyl for the procedure but nothing before it. I just think I am too depressed to survive the surgery if I had it.
    How do I get these drs. to listen to me and not just brush me off and say oh it will be fine , you’ll see. I HATE that. I am really terrified and not the normal paitent because of the fears.

  • Susie

    Roberta,
    I hope you find the courage to get your heart cath done. They can give you fentanyl after your procedure for back pain too, not just during procedure. We do it regularly for people with chronic pain. It is not uncommon. I really want you to have a heart to heart with your surgeon about your true anxiety /depression and how it is affecting your decision to even have surgery. I know you can do this. I am so sorry you don’t have a support system to help you through this, let alone the pressure of insurance and cost issues. Please don’t let this stop you from taking on a procedure that can give you a second chance…I’m routing for you….

  • Steve

    Although this thread is about post-operative depression, I want everyone to be aware that it can sometimes comes months later. I was 50 when I found out I needed a triple by-pass, had no problems prior to my annual physical. I was and am a non smoker, weight within 10 lbs of the “chart” weight, no drug history, just a guy who thought I was in great health compared to everyone else. Needless to say, the 2 valves and the widow maker had to be corrected. Right or wrong, my surgeon told me afterward that based on my condition I would have never made it to my 52nd birthday. I was mostly likely going to have a massive heart attack and not be able to be saved. I had just recently celebrated my 52nd birthday when major anxiety began, and then finally, the depression. I feel it every time my heart skips a beat or any pain associated near my chest. It took months before the depression set in so some people need to be aware that it may come sometime later, and when it does you should seek help right away.

  • louise

    hi. i am a 64 yr old female. i had a cervical disc fusion in 2009, then aortic valve replacement in 2010. i put this off due to fear almost too long. when i woke up from surgery i was told i would’ve been dead in 24 hrs without the surgery. big scare! they gave me pain meds to help extra due to 5 herniated discs in my back which makes lying on my back agony. i am now facing total hip replacement (both hips), so am in constant severe pain. do not put off life saving heart surgery due to fear of pain. theymll help with that. i can breathe comfortably now for the first time in years and didn’t suffer from depression, even though i am financially strapped (they just have to accept what i can give) and have very little support (very small family and no husband). you can get through this and things will get better.

  • Kathy

    Hi.. Two weeks after valve replacement, my best friend went into cardiac arrest. After two horrible weeks in the hospital, she died. Now I’m in week eight and her family hasn’t so much as put a death notice in the paper, much less planned any services for her. Depression has always been an issue, but now it’s like a way of life. I’m really not sure how to get past this. I feel very guilty about feeling sorry for myself. My depression seems to me, a very selfish condition. And that sucks too. I thought she would be here to keep me company while I’m stuck in the house instead of working in the garden or rock hunting, like we loved to do…. We were ten days apart. We’d been friends our entire lives. We turned 55 this year. Now I feel like “Okay, I survived. Now what?”

  • Roberta

    Hi, I initally wrote on here in Jan 2012.
    I am still here and have had no surgery.
    Still suffer from panic disorder, chronic back pain, although I am not on any pain meds as of now due to crummy Dr, (That’s another story for another thread.)
    I have not died suddenly as the Dr’s said I would. Guess God’s not done with me yet.
    Granted I don’t have a very full life, staying at home and watching TV, but I am alive and I still will not have surgery due to the fact that I believe Dr’s lie to us to make us have surgery when it might not really be time for it. To me it’s all about the money. (which I have none of).
    Depression is very real and seeing all of this only makes me realize I made the right choice for me.
    Kathy, Seems like God isn’t done with you yet either. You have survived and now are telling us about your friend and what went wrong. Maybe you are here for that reason.
    Maybe another. Only time will tell, So sorry for the loss of your friend. You will keep them alive in your memory and by sharing what happened. Take care.

  • Alexander

    hello, my name is Alexander.
    From birth I have had multiple heart surgeries, and my last one was over two years ago and it ruined my life, and I have resentments everyday about living, I am tormented with the sound of the artificial valve. I am 28 now and don’t get to see my son, my wife divorced me because of my drinking, and now I have a hard time finding a job, and I live in Arizona, so I am not considered disabled. I haven’t been able to see a cardiologist in half a year and don’t get my warfarin on a regular basis. What can I do about the depression that comes from a childhood of doctors telling you that you may not live, and then after the surgery have little to no health care to insure my survival?

  • Steve

    My 90 year old mother had TAVR surgery to replace a heart valve last Wednesday. At this point doctors say physically she is doing pretty well, emotionally she is not. She wants to sleep most of the time, does not want to get out of bed and most troubling, does not want to eat. With concern for this she now has a feeding tube. The family does not want to over react and wants to be supportive. Doctors are becoming “moderately” concerned. Some of the comments and information here have been helpful but any other thoughts would be appreciated.

  • Mads Bjorn-Roli

    I had valve replacement and aorta replacement exactly 3 months ago. They said I would feel better after surgery. But I went from being happy to suicidal and wish I never did the surgery. They fixed my heart and said am doing great, then they send me out in the real world with out listening to me as a person how I really felt. I lasted for one week trying going back on the job marked. I was not ready, and ended up in the psychiatric hospital instead. I asked for mental help already before surgery, they never did anything to get me mental help. Big reward to the heart s urgent and his team. They created a strong heart, but their ignorance took away my thank for saving my life, as am not living.

  • Susie

    This is for Mads Bjorn-Roli
    I would really like to talk to you. I am a nurse…I had an aortic valve replacement and an ascending aneurysm repair and one bypass at the age of 48. I am 50 so not too far out from surgery. I also work with open heart patients and take care of open hearts right out of surgery. I know how you feel! I felt “worthless” after surgery and that is an honest statement from my heart. It is a true feeling. I have never felt like this before. I was honest with my general practitioner who was amazing and really listened to me. I am so sorry you had to be admitted to the psych hospital. I hope they were able to help you and redirect you to a brighter place. If you want to talk — I am here and “I get it”.

    It will be ok, Susie

  • Kathy

    Dear Mads Bjorn-Roli
    Please do not become discouraged. There is always reason why one’s life is saved. It is just too soon. It took me a full 4 months, going into the 5th month, before I felt human. May I ask, are you walking? Please walk as much as you can. Walking saved me!!! I will swear to that!! Today is my 1 year anniversary and I’ve had great tragedy but many blessings! Everyday that we wake up is a blessing! Please! Do not despair! Nothing is by coincidence or accident… Including you dropping a note on this site, today, of all days, for you have found a friend!

  • Kathy

    Good morning! Dear Roberta, I pray you are still with us! Until I got notice of the most recent post, yesterday, I did not even remember that I had posted, almost a year ago! I know it’s late, but I do apologize for not responding, and thank you for your kind words. I’m wondering if you ever had your surgery. I pray that you have and that all is well.

  • Ginny

    My anger and depression came a couple of weeks following heart catheterization. I didn’t know what was wrong with me because my cath was fine. I work, exercise, but was so angry now and can’t stop crying. I feel better now that I know this sometimes follows heart procedures and hope it clears up on its own. Good luck to you all, you aren’t alone.

  • Dylan Ross

    Hi im a 35 yearold father of a 4yr old & I had aortic valve and ascending aorta replacement 7 months ago due to endocarditis( a surprise). I was diagnosed with a bicusbid aortic valve with stenosis and after a second opinion Stanford medical center found aortic aneurysm. To top this mess off im epileptic and have battled seizures for years! Due to the infection of the old valve I have been on antibiotics for 7 months and will be for another year and its wrecking my stomach and energy. IM IN THE DEPTHS OF CARDIAC DEPRESSION!! it helps to hear that I’m not the only one I did read Adam’s book and it helped me prepare for surgery. Especially getting a second opinion! Now I’m trying to get my blood pressure down to get the rehab going but they freek when a 35 year old male’s blood pressure gets over 150/95. My surgeon and cardiologist laugh when I ask about cardiac rehabilitation so im kinda lost….

  • David

    My name is David and I had aortic valve replacement january 31, 2014. I was scared before the surgery but nothing like now. I feel like fucking killing myself every waking moment and the doctors dont give a fuck. If I ever go over the edge, I will take the surgon and the cardiologist with me, believe that. Today is august 10, 2014 and im still in the “rehabilitation center”. Hell is what it is and its 24 miles away from the nearest hospitol so it takes a squad 20 minutes to get here and by the time they get me in the ambulance and to the e.r. its about 40 minutes. I keep having panic attacks and fits of rage and I dont know how much longer I can take it. I’m 41 years old. they said I would be back to work and live a normal life in 3 or 4 weeks, what a joke that was. I dont have any kids and my parents are dead and no wife or girlfriend so ive went through this shit alone. I tried God, Jesus and prying and I dont think they are listening and I just get madder. It will be over one way or the other, but I will probably never recover from the emotional and mental anguish and they dont give a fuck about none of it. I tried to get better pain meds and some form of seditive to keep me calm, but they dont give a fuck. Im scared to do anything, they fucked my left shoulder up and my back kills me all the time and I cant sleep untill Im so exulsted I just shut down only to wake up to the horror of still being alive. And nobody gives a fuck……nobody. Theres so much more, I could write a book. I thought this would be alot different than this. The doctors are ruthless about after care. They did not say one fucking thing about none of this. They was all nice and caring before thr surgery, now I want to cut their fucking heads off with a butter knife. What a fucking shame and this should be illeagal. I hate this fucking country with a passion now. And fuck all you doctors who read this you fucking butchers!!

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