02/19/2012 12:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Nicholson Crying? Post-Heart Attack Depression -- Heart Month: Day 19


Actor Jack Nicholson realistically acted the post-heart attack depression that 50 percent of survivors experience following a heart attack. Here his character experiences an unusual (for him) emotional moment in Nancy Meyer's 2003 comedy "Something's Gotta Give" with Diane Keaton. Nicholson's character unexpectedly falls in love with a woman his own age following a heart attack.


Cardiologists routinely warn heart attack survivors of the risk of depression after a heart attack -- little or no stigma is attached to brain-generated illness in this instance. Temporary feelings of sadness following a heart attack are normal and gradually go away after a few weeks.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, if the depression is more severe and persists for more than two weeks, antidepressant medication is highly recommended both for recovery and to lower odds of a second attack. But a new question is emerging: Was there depression before the heart attack? Could changes in the brain contribute to problems of the heart?

A recent study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research reported that people who underwent brain scans three months after a heart attack showed that the depressed patients had changes and structural abnormalities in the brain's deep white matter anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

"This study provides the first evidence that persistent depressive symptoms after [a heart attack] are associated with vascular brain changes. Longitudinal studies are needed to determine whether depressive symptoms precede these changes or vice versa," the researchers concluded.

Vicki Myers, a researcher at Tel Aviv University, led a separate study published in the January issue of journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. Depressed patients spend 14 percent more time in the hospital than their happier counterparts. Along with her colleagues, Myers examined the association between depressive symptoms in heart attack patients and hospital admissions more than a decade after the initial attack. And so it goes.

See you tomorrow.


2012-02-13-AlarmClockHeartGetty.jpgHeart attack survivors, please click on the blue Public Service banner above and take the Yale Heart Study. If you haven't had a heart attack, click and forward to someone you love who has had a heart attack. Thank you.

Disclosure: Suzanne O'Malley is a Senior Research Associate for the non-profit NIH-funded Yale Heart Study. She teaches screenwriting and film studies at the Yale Writers' Conference & Associate/Director of Yale Summer Film Institute.

For more by Suzanne O'Malley, click here.

For more on personal health, click here.