Chronic illnesses such as heart failure can affect mood and mental health. After a diagnosis, a person may feel sad, discouraged, or anxious about what the future holds.

To an extent, this is typical and to be expected. People can feel grief when they learn they have a chronic illness. It can take some time to process the news.

Some scientists have also theorized that heart disease and depression may share similar mechanisms, increasing the risk of each other.

This article looks at the relationship between heart failure and mental health as well as the symptoms of mental health conditions and treatments that may help.

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Any chronic condition, including heart failure, can potentially affect mental health. This is because receiving a diagnosis of a chronic condition can disrupt a person’s plans for the future and how they view themselves.

Some conditions, such as heart failure, can also require significant changes in diet or lifestyle and may change a person’s physical limitations. Worry about the future, medical bills, or treatment side effects can also add stress.

Depression and anxiety are common in people with heart failure. According to a 2018 review, evidence suggests that the rates of these mental health conditions are higher in people with heart failure than in the general population.

A 2006 meta-analysis of 36 studies including participants with heart failure found that:

Heart failure can have a range of effects on a person’s emotions. Upon getting a diagnosis, a person may feel:

  • scared
  • anxious
  • sad
  • confused
  • frustrated
  • angry

These emotions may come and go at varying points over time as the person adjusts to new aspects of their life, such as:

  • taking new medications
  • experiencing side effects from drugs
  • making frequent follow-up visits to the doctor

These emotions may naturally dissipate. In some cases, they may persist, even if a person starts feeling physically better.

If the feelings persist, a person could have:

Depression

Depression is a sustained low mood that comes with physical changes. Symptoms can include:

  • persistent sadness
  • feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • loss of interest in activities
  • irritability or restlessness
  • tiredness or lack of energy
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in sleep
  • talking or moving slowly
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions

With severe depression, a person may have suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders cause persistent or recurring worry or anxious thoughts. Symptoms can include:

  • feeling tense
  • a sense of dread, danger, or panic
  • raised heart rate or blood pressure
  • sweating
  • dry mouth
  • choking sensation
  • shaking or trembling

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a condition that may develop after a traumatic event. Traumatic events can include any experience a person perceives as dangerous or life threatening.

If a person already has PTSD, this could raise the risk of heart failure. But scientists believe that heart failure may also worsen PTSD as part of a bidirectional relationship between the heart and brain.

Symptoms of PTSD can include:

  • feeling alert or unable to relax
  • insomnia
  • nightmares
  • flashbacks, which could be emotional or visual
  • avoidance of triggers, such as certain people, places, or situations

Yes, heart failure could potentially worsen depression or anxiety symptoms that a person already has.

The psychological impact of having heart failure can affect the brain in terms of a person’s mood, but there may be more to the link.

Some researchers suggest that heart disease and depression may share some of the same underlying mechanisms and risk factors. Both conditions:

  • affect platelet function
  • increase inflammation
  • disrupt the neuroendocrine system

There is also speculation that PTSD and heart failure could have similar mechanisms, but more research is necessary to learn more.

Receiving a diagnosis of heart failure is life changing. Below are some types of support that may help a person cope.

After diagnosis

People may experience a lot of emotions after their diagnosis. Some things that may help during this time include:

  • taking time to process the news
  • acknowledging whatever feelings that come up
  • expressing emotions, which could involve talking with someone, journaling, or therapy
  • learning more about heart failure

Researching heart failure online or talking with doctors can be a helpful resource for learning about heart failure and the outlook. However, doing this research when still anxious or upset may not be productive.

Instead, a person may benefit from allowing time to digest their diagnosis before jumping into learning and problem-solving. They may be able to ask friends or family for practical help to make things easier. For example, a friend or family member could organize paperwork, set up automatic prescriptions, or drive the person to appointments.

It may also help to join a support group to talk with people who have had similar experiences.

Mental health treatment

If a person continues having symptoms of depression, anxiety, or PTSD after their diagnosis, they can look into the options they have for support.

Treatment guidelines recommend that doctors screen all people with heart failure for depression. If a doctor does not, a person can bring this up at a follow-up appointment.

Treatment may involve medications, talk therapy, or a combination of both. There are many types of therapy to choose from.

Self-care

Self-care involves managing emotions and caring for physical needs as best as possible. What this involves will look different from person to person but may include:

  • safely getting some exercise
  • remembering to drink water
  • eating regular meals
  • making time to connect with friends or family
  • getting enough sleep
  • celebrating small wins
  • spending time in nature or with animals

Researchers also suggest that people with heart failure who develop depression or anxiety may not take their medication consistently, so it is important to keep doing this too.

Depression, anxiety, and PTSD are treatable conditions. If symptoms appear and do not get better with time, a person can speak with their doctor or a therapist for support.

Not everyone knows the link between depression and heart failure, so it can go untreated unless a person seeks help.

If a person is experiencing thoughts of death or suicide, or they are self-harming, immediate help is needed.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Click here for more links and local resources.

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Heart failure can affect mental health. It can cause temporary feelings of sadness, anxiety, or low mood, but in some people, it may also contribute to or worsen mental health conditions, such as depression.

It may be beneficial for some people to have a multidisciplinary medical team that includes a mental health professional to care for their physical and mental health. Treatment options may include medication, therapy, or both.