Cardiac Depression: What Should Patients Know?

For many patients, cardiac depression can be an unexpected and dislocating reality after heart surgery. Personally, I suffered from an extreme case of cardiac depression. My outlook was dismal. I had no energy. I felt alone and lifeless. Thankfully… That changed when I learned about cardiac rehabilitation classes and when I saw a therapist.

As my mission is to educate and empower you, I recently connected with Dr. Marc Gillinov, the Chair of Cardiac Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. If you didn’t know, Dr. Gillinov is a heart valve specialist who has successfully treated over 100 patients from our community. Here’s the highlights from my interview with Dr. Gillinov about cardiac depression.



I hope this helped you learn more about cardiac depression. I also hope this might motivate you to ask your surgeon and medical team about cardiac rehabilitation. After talking with thousands of patients, I have yet to speak with one patient who did not have a positive experience with cardiac rehab.

Keep on tickin!

P.S. For the hearing impaired members of our community, here is a written transcript of my interview with Dr. Marc Gillinov about cardiac rehabilitation.

Adam Pick: Hi, everybody. It’s Adam with Today we are at the Heart Valve Summit in Chicago, Illinois. I’m thrilled to be joined by Dr. Marc Gillinov, who is the Chair of Cardiac Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. Marc, thanks for being with us today.


Dr. Marc Gillinov (Cleveland Clinic)


Dr. Marc Gillinov: Thank you.

Adam Pick: One of the questions that we have from a lot of our patients is about the mind and how to deal with this experience of heart surgery, both before and after surgery. What we’ve seen is that many patients as they go through this process get depressed. We hear this term cardiac depression after surgery. Can you talk about some of the things that you’re doing there at the Cleveland Clinic to help patients with before and after surgery deal with depression?

Dr. Marc Gillinov: Cardiac depression is a real thing. It’s more than being upset or a little bit dispirited because you had a heart problem. About 20, maybe 25% of people who have a cardiac event – heart surgery, heart attack, angioplasty, stenting, any cardiac event – about a quarter of them are going to get some form of cardiac depression, which is a real entity. The first thing to do is to educate your community and all those who take care of the people in your community about this phenomenon, that cardiac depression is real, that it’s more than just saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll feel better tomorrow.” In terms of preemptive strategies, discussing it and letting the family members and the patient know if you begin to feel like this – down, the symptoms of depression – tell us so we can address it early.

I think that one thing that helps a lot in the post-operative time frame is cardiac rehab. My experience is that people who do cardiac rehab – starting about four weeks after surgery – the people who do the rehab very rarely get depressed. Perhaps as being part of a larger group, people went through the same thing, focusing on yourself, it can be, I think, prevented in many people, but should it occur, it should not be ignored.

Adam Pick: Marc, I can tell you, I love the fact you brought up cardiac rehab because for me, I know in my recovery, cardiac rehab was a turning point for me. It brought me some social benefits, physical benefits, and even just well-being. I’m so happy you brought that up. You’re using it with your patients. I’ve heard, though, it’s under-utilized by patients. Is that true?

Dr. Marc Gillinov: It’s vastly under-utilized. I think that there are two factors that go into that under-utilization. The first is a lot of doctors and hospitals say we fixed your heart; you’re good to go; let us know if you have any problems; bye-bye. It doesn’t end with the operator in the ICU in the hospital. The recovery, as you know – you know better than I do – extends in time, and cardiac rehab is part of that.

The second factor, limiting it’s use, is a lot of patients say I have a treadmill in my basement; I can just do that on my own. You can do the treadmill part on your own, but being part of that group that helps you in a holistic way, you can’t do that on your own. So, if you have a heart issue, do cardiac rehab.

Adam Pick: Last question, wrapping up – this has been great – when does a patient start cardiac rehab?

Marc Gillinov: After heart surgery you start cardiac rehab at about four weeks. Need not be exactly 28 days; it could be five weeks, six weeks, three and a half weeks. Then it continues for actually as long as you’d like. There’s nothing wrong with making cardiac rehab your rest-of-life exercise and holistic wellness program.

Adam Pick: Brilliant points, Marc. As always, thank you for all the care that you and your team are providing to all the patients in our community or coming to see you at the Cleveland Clinic. Thanks for your time, and thanks for being with us.

Marc Gillinov:My pleasure.


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

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.

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