HEART
December 11, 2009

Post Surgery Depression

Heart patients who received supportive phone calls not only had less depression, but also stayed out of the hospital.

It is not uncommon for people recovering from heart surgery to experience depression – but researchers say it is “often unrecognized” and may be linked to heart−related re−hospitalization. A new study presented at the American Heart Association’s 2009 Scientific Sessions suggests that a simple course of telephone interventions may help depressed heart patients considerably, and significantly cut down on post−surgery heart−related issues.

Patients recovering from heart surgery were screened for depression before they left the hospital, as part of a trial called “Bypassing the Blues.” Half of those who still remained depressed after two weeks were assigned to the treatment group, which included an eight−month course of telephone care. Patients were also provided with a workbook that offered advice on common concerns associated with depression, like sleep issues, and tips for exercising and remaining socially active. Telephone care initially consisted of biweekly chats with a nurse practitioner, and then dropped to monthly consults. Patients also had the option of beginning antidepressant medication if it was thought necessary, or, if they had already been taking them, changing the dosing or type of antidepressant prescribed.

Depressed patients who received the telephone−based treatment were much less likely to be re−hospitalized with heart−related issues than those who received usual physician care.

The researchers found that 50% of the initially depressed patients experienced positive changes in their moods of up to 50%. In contrast, depressed participants who received routine care saw improvements of up to only 29%. Equally exciting was the fact that depressed patients who received the telephone−based treatment were much less likely to be re−hospitalized with heart−related issues than those who received usual physician care.

Author Bruce L. Rollman says that the study results are particularly noteworthy since depression is often overlooked by physicians, who typically focus on finding causes related to physical or heart health, rather than mental health. Rollman says that doctors “overlook the obvious sometimes. We just want people to be aware of the impact of depression and that there are safe and effective treatments available.” He adds that “[m]any practices have care managers for helping people with their diabetes and other chronic conditions and a similar program could be used to help patients who are depressed cope after their bypass surgery.”

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and published in the November 18, 2009 issue of the Journal of the America Medical Association.

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