Emotional And Behavioral Changes After Heart Surgery… For Beth & Erik

Beth just emailed me about her husband’s problematic recovery from heart surgery. She writes, “Hi Adam – My husband had heart valve replacement surgery (from mitral valve prolapse with regurgitation) two months ago. Since then, he seems to be experiencing some emotional and behavioral changes after heart surgery. Although his heart is doing great, Erik seems to be “a little down” and somewhat “out of it” since the heart surgery. Any thoughts? Thanks, Beth.”

Here are my thoughts for Beth:

As patients, we enter the operating room with two critical thoughts. The first thought is, “Please let me live!” The second thought is “Please fix my heart so that I can live longer!”

After surgery, the relief of living and having fixed hearts is not enough for many patients. Instead, many patients are bombarded by difficult thoughts relative to pain, complications and ultimately, a challenged recovery. That said, these thoughts can manifest in emotional and behavioral changes after heart surgery.

In my own research, I learned that 30%-75% of patients report feeling anxious or depressed after heart surgery. That’s a pretty significant number. Personally, I experienced both emotional and behavioral changes following my valve replacements. I was moody. I was irritable. I was fatigued. I was tired of the pain.

As Doctor R. Scott Mitchell notes, “I think the cause of cardiac depression is entirely unknown… But, it could be the psychological effect of anticipating surgery, the prolonged time under anesthesia, or the results of the heart-lung machine.”

On this note, reports suggest that these emotional and behavioral shifts are increasing in frequency. In the opinion of many, this increase is directly related to short hospital stays in which patients are discharged too quickly after the operation. Today, patients are in the hospital five days on average. In the past, patients would have ten to fifteen days in the hospital to assimilate their new reality, according to Dr. Richard Fogoros.

As to what can be done about the emotional changes after heart surgery, I took several guided steps including attending cardiac rehab classes, spending less time alone, ending my use of Vicodin, etc.

Cardiac Rehab Program - Torrance Memorial Hospital
Adam In Cardiac Rehab Class

I hope this helps explain a little more about the common emotional and behavioral changes after heart valve replacement surgery and heart valve repair surgery. Scroll down to see over 45 patient comments.

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.

  • Derek Kent

    I had a triple bypass one year ago. My experience, judging from the posts I’ve read, has been unique. I’d suffered from depression for 10 years and had quite a few mild heart attacks, I thought were chronic heart burn, in that time. I received counselling after the operation and now I no longer have the disabling depressions. I’ve developed emotions I’d forgotten. My memory is 10 times better than it was as well. Emotionally I’ve found myself in a place I’d never dreamed of before the operation. This despite the fact that 12 months later I am still unable to return to work because my donor leg is extremely painful. I am unable to weight bear for more than half an hour or so. I have pins and needles pains I cannot describe. Knee, hip, buttock, ankle and foot pains that feel like physical damage is being done in addition. I think my GP simply humors me, but the pain is genuine. The condition has neither improved nor worsened in months and my only concern is whether the pain is permanent or not. Any feedback or advice would be most welcome.

  • Carla

    Im sorry for what you are going through but i had to write you because I have the same situation. I love him so much but i feel so guilty because im to the point of just walking away. Theres no love making no compassion just seems like all hate only towards me. So i do feel for you believe me your not alone. I have no support at all so its all on me. He acts like everything is great around everyone else. He wont talk to drs about the emotional or intimacy part. he doesn’t even want to try to fix it my main question is how much of this is the surgery and how much is him being an ass

  • Syd

    I was born with transposition. I have had 3 open heart surgeries over 30 years ago. Recently I had my pacemaker replaced and a Stent placed in my baffle. I do not feel the same since. I have withdrawn from my family. I did not have confidence to go out of my home for a long time. I feel angry towards my family (not my husband or Daughter ) I have lost myself.

  • Mandy Bressers

    My 26 year old husband had a subcutaneous defibrillator placed on his left side in March. Since then he has been very emotional, easily irritable, quick to anger, and on occasion violent (he threw my cell phone and broke it). I’m not sure what to do or how to help him. I feel like everyday is an emotional roller coaster and I’m so tired of fighting that I’ve started to apologize for things he gets angry about. What do I do?

  • Frances woodland

    Hang it there Frank … These mood changes won’t last forever. As some of my friends who have taken heart attacks, had valve replacements, or stints but in all involve the heart and is a traumatic event for the person. The fear takes at least a year to subside so just be patient.

    Eventually, hopefully you will be able to enjoy doing thing with your wife again. I was advised thar the key is “to make new memories” . Good luck!!!!!

  • dilan silva

    Im 31 and faced angioplasty in two months back, I had two blocks in my heart valves and the angioplasty was successful. My problem is I have problem in my common interests, I mean now I do not have libido and I would rather stay silent. I just married and my wife is pregnant, I guess the medicenes im taking may cause these problems in my life. I discussed this with my doctor and he says that everything will be all right but slowly. Im taking plavix as anti platelet treatment and aspirin and rosuvastatin to lower my cholesterol levels. Loosing sexual ineterest is really a problem to me in age like this since my half of a life is ahead of me.

  • Lauren Visser

    Cheryl, I’m not sure if you still respond to these messages, but I’m in the same emotional boat. I’m 24 and I just had open-heart surgery 3 months ago. I had an infection that seeped into my mitral valve, which was abnormally long. I was literally going to graduate college in 2 months, go on a spring break trip, and hopefully start a career. Now I’m half a million dollar in debt from hospital bills and I just am not myself. I have the same problems as you, vision problems, speaking problems, and simply just enjoying life. It’s good to know that we are not the only ones. These forums certainly help.! Anyhow, I hope you’re doing well, my Grandma’s name is Cheryl 🙂 Trust me, it’s a major compliment, she’s a wonderful lady and I’m sure you are too!
    <3 Lauren

  • Sev

    Hey, I’m 14 years old and I had mitral valve repair in April. The results were amazing, thank god 🙂 thanks to the amazing surgeons and nurses who nurtured me throughout my days of hospital. However, since my surgery I’ve been very down, depressed and emotional. I’ve had psychological problems. I haven’t told anyone about my situation either. I can’t bare anyone touching my scar. When they do, even when it doesn’t hurt, I feel like instantly crying. I always try to hold it in. I can’t touch my scar either, I get scared and anxious. Also, I had a nightmare the other day. A troll with an axe was chasing me wanting to cut open my chest. I woke up really sweaty and my heart beat was so so fast I had to calm myself down and do breathing techniques just to get my heart rate back to normal again. Am I depressed, or is this normal after open heart surgery. I need help :(.

  • Phillip Devine

    Hi Lauren, I read your post and decided to reply. What you are going through and struggling with sounds very similar to my own experience 8 years ago. I went through emergency cardiac surgery due to an Atrial Myxoma which had also damaged my mitral valve. I was a fit 30 something, never been ill ( apart from the usual stuff ) and had never been in hospital other than to visit other people! So to say the diagnosis was a shock to me was the understatement of the year! Physically, the recovery went well but emotionally I was a wreck. Constant anxiety, stomach butterflies, feeling like I couldnt relax or calm down, that the ‘rug had been pulled from under me’ ,no interest in life, feelings of ‘doom’ & very introspective.
    This went on for over a year. Please dont do what I did and bottle it up because doing so cost me a lot in personal life and career. If I knew then what I know now after researching PTSD post cardiac surgery, I would have been banging on the GP’s door to arrange counselling or CBT ( which does work, trust me)….but, unfortunately I didn’t for a year.
    All is good now! Its completely behind me and I rarely think about it….but that took a couple of years to get there and I want to save you that ‘ not very pleasurable’ journey.
    I hope this strikes a chord. If it does then the solution is to talk to people; family, friends and professionals and dont be embarrassed to admit you are struggling

  • Dave

    Diana, I implore you, PLEASE do not leave him. He’s a mess right now, but it’s only temporary. Everything about his life right now is 10x more difficult than it used to be. Now is the time to step up show him how much you love him and reassure him you won’t leave no matter what. A few months of heartache (pardon the pun) is not worth punishing him with a lifetime of loneliness. He’ll get better, I promise!! I know, my live-in gf left me after my surgery for the same reasons.

  • Phillip Devine

    Sev, its completely normal. Talk to your doctor, its nothing to be ashamed of. I had major heart surgery a few years back and it took me a long time to get back to normal ( read my story a few paragraphs up/down from here). Dont bottle it up,it will come back to bite you ( trust me!)

  • Pat Oneill

    Hi my name is Patrick I am 47 and had a mild heart attack and triple bypass Christmas 2013. Over 3 years on I find myself suffering from high amounts of anxiety which has become more and more constant. It’s stopping me from sleeping and affecting my ability to function normally. I’m really starting to struggle with work and find myself feeling depressed. My question is. It’s this common for people to suffer from anxiety 2 to 3 years after .

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