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?

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