Wednesday, January 19

Keys to psychological recovery after suffering a heart attack


A heart attack occurs when a coronary artery narrows so much that an obstruction occurs and, consequently, the blood does not arrive to a part of the heart. Without blood, and therefore without oxygen, the myocardium cannot produce energy to move.

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The result is the death of the cells of the tissue that has been without receiving blood, in a process called necrosis. That is why, when it is not fatal, acute myocardial infarction has important consequences in the person who suffers it.

The Spanish Heart Foundation (FEC) explains that if the infarction is very extensive “it is possible to suffer from heart failure for life, sometimes with pulmonary congestion”. If its extension is less, meanwhile, “you can lead a normal life, yes, controlling risk factors to avoid a new heart attack “.

The point is that a heart attack represents a traumatic episode. And the traces it leaves are not only physical: also on a psychological level. This is due to changes that implies in practically all areas of the life of those who suffer from it and, in general, due to the great emotional impact it causes.

Around the twenty% of people who have had a heart attack suffer after depression. Which, in addition to affecting the quality of life of the person, can even double the risk of having a new heart attack.

How a heart attack changes life

The person who suffers a heart attack usually goes through – as detailed document from the DKV health insurance company – the following experiences:

  • Restructuring of routine and organization in everyday life.
  • Changes in family relationships and social and leisure activities.
  • Difficulties for returning to work.
  • Alterations in sexual life.
  • Emotional imbalances.

In relation to the emotional, the reaction of the patients and their way of facing what happened and the future It is generally framed within one of the following four categories, described by the psychologist Emilia Mellinas, of the Medical Center Station, based in Alicante:

  • one. Acceptance of what happened and positive attitude to take advantage of all the resources at your fingertips in order to regain your health and quality of life in the best possible way.
  • 2. Tendency to persistently plunge into the role of sick person, with symptoms of stress, anxiety, fear of having a new heart attack or suffering a disability or dying from heart causes, irritability, guilt for the behaviors and lifestyle that could be responsible for the heart attack, depression, etc.
  • 3. Denial of the importance of the cardiac event and its consequences, a kind of “false optimism” that leads to a reestablishment of the previous life as if nothing had happened.
  • Four. Exploitation from the “sick condition” to avoid the obligations and roles that should be assumed.

Of course, the healthiest reactions are those of the first group. Those of the other three are those that make the help and accompaniment of both family members and other people close to the patient and, eventually, a psychologist or other health professional more necessary.

Fear and healthy habits

The FEC explains that, in people who have suffered a heart attack, the fear of having another “is totally normal.” “That fear is what protects us not to do things that we should not and encourages us to have healthy habits “, points out a text of the aforementioned organization.

Those healthy habits are essential. Above all, those related to a healthy and balanced diet (the Mediterranean, with skimmed dairy and little alcohol, and low in saturated fat, cold cuts, precooked, etc.), the physical exercise (whose intensity may vary depending on the health of the patient) and abstention from tobacco use.

But, as has been pointed out, the psychological part is also essential. In fact, one of the objectives of the programs of Cardiac Rehabilitation It consists – affirms the FEC – in which “the patient is aware of how important it is to take the medication correctly and comply with treatment for as long as your doctor prescribes. ”

Patients who follow this type of rehabilitation, reports the FEC, reduce mortality from heart disease by 20-30%.

Against irrational fears and anxiety

The psychological aspect maybe more difficult Recovery has to do with certain irrational fears, such as “I will no longer be able to play sports”, “I will not be able to work again” or even “I will not be able to enjoy sex again.” Although a heart attack may alter these activities in some way, it does not make them impossible.

The psychological support and also the group psychotherapy – in which the experiences lived after a heart attack, fears and other sensations are shared – can be very important for recovery, points out Emilia Mellinas. And also the relaxation techniques to prevent and cope with situations of anxiety and stress.

It must be borne in mind that the fear of having another heart attack, if not controlled, can generate high levels of anxiety, and these are, in turn, a risk factor for heart problems. That is to say: it is a vicious circle, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy (The fear of heart attack encourages that heart attack that is feared).

Hence the importance of seeking professional help if the fear of having a new heart attack becomes too intense and affects the life of the patient.

The importance of family and close people

Finally, the importance of the role played by the family and the people around a person who has suffered a heart attack should be highlighted in their psychological recovery. As the DKV document points out, the environment must ensure:

  • Help the patient to respect medical prescriptions and treatments. For example, asking him how the consultation went or reminding him of the times when he is supposed to take his medication.
  • Be attentive to accompany in situations that may represent a problem for the person (such as lifting or carrying a very heavy object from one place to another), but avoid an overprotective attitude, as this can increase the feeling of incapacity or disability, as well as uncertainties and fears for the future.
  • Do not save affection or displays of affection. In post-infarction, many patients feel especially sensitive and in need of love and support more than usual.
  • Create an environment of peace and serenity, and avoid arguments, fights and other situations that can generate a lot of nervousness and stress as much as possible.
  • Find a balance in the daily treatment so that the patient adapts to the limitations imposed by the heart attack he has suffered and accepts that asking for help is not a “defeat“or anything like that, but without that putting him in the role of victim.

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