Depression after heart bypass surgery isn’t just about feeling depressed over clogged arteries, but the depression can have other related causes.

How expected or common is depression after coronary bypass surgery?

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study showed that coronary bypass patients who had depression after surgery, fared a lot better with a phone-based, nurse-led care team, than did people who did not receive this added care to their heart surgeon’s standard rehab care protocols.

Study findings appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

However, 20 to 25 percent of patients experienced depression following coronary bypass surgery, says this outdated study that was published in 2009.

How Truly Common Is Depression after Heart Bypass Surgery?

“Patients have reported depression and memory loss after heart surgery for many decades, and initially was thought to be a result of the unnatural state of being on the heart lung machine,” says Michael Fiocco, MD, Chief of Open Heart Surgery at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, one of the nation’s top 50 heart hospitals.

“The latest data shows that depression and memory loss after heart surgery are directly related to your preop mental state,” says Dr. Fiocco.

“In other words, these patients have undiagnosed memory loss or depression coming into the surgery, and it becomes amplified post-op.

“With today’s techniques and the approach that stresses to the patient that the surgery is performed for them to return to their normal life, new-onset depression is very rare.”

Possible Cause of New-Onset Depression After CABG

Depression following CABG has been shown to impede quality of life and increase the risk of re-hospitalization.

An apparently new-onset depression that develops after coronary bypass surgery may be explained by several factors:

  • Patient’s family isn’t supportive; not giving the emotional or physical support that was expected.
  • There was pre-existing depression, but it had gone under the radar. The surgery has only amplified it.
  • Patient becomes “bummed out” due to what lies ahead: weeks of rehab, weakness, sore chest, having to take new medications, missing work and activities, etc.

There’s nothing about CABG itself that directly causes changes in the brain that lead to depression.

dr. fiocco

Dr. Fiocco specializes in treating artery disease, valvular disease and aortic aneurysm. His heart care expertise has earned him recognition by Baltimore Magazine as a Top Doctor in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2017.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.