The study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that nearly one in four heart failure patients develop long-term symptoms of anxiety and depression. And comparatively, to cancer patient, they were 20% more likely to develop mental health issues five years after diagnosis.

Heart failure affects around 65 million people worldwide. It is diagnosed when the heart is unable to sufficiently pump blood around the body, leading to a gradual development of worsening symptoms, such as breathlessness, fatigue, and swollen ankles and legs.

The study’s author Doctor Mark Luedde of the Cardiological Group Practice, Bremerhaven, Germany, commented that these symptoms were one of the potential reasons why patients with heart failure go on to develop co-occurring mental health conditions:

“The rising incidence of psychological problems over time in both heart failure and cancer could be due to limitations on daily activities caused by fatigue, impaired mobility, and other debilitating symptoms.”

‘Heartbroken’ patients more likely to develop depression and anxiety than cancer patients

The researcher compared patient records to examine the combined incidences of depression and anxiety five years after diagnosing heart failure or cancer. And found that only breast cancer patients were at higher risk of developing a mental health condition.

The retrospective analysis found that 23.1% of heart failure patients developed a psychological condition, 25.7% of breast cancer patients, 22.1% of gastrointestinal cancer patients, and 15% of prostate cancer patients.

Overall, compared to cancer, heart failure patients had a significantly higher risk of developing depression and anxiety. And specifically, the risk was 66% higher than those with prostate cancer and 17% higher than those with gastrointestinal cancer.

Dr Mark Luedde commented that while “psycho-oncology” has been established for a long-time, similar mental health services for cardiovascular patients are still in their infancy.

He added: “Psychological support services for patients with cancer are relatively common. However, more help is needed for those with heart failure – of whom almost one-quarter develop depression or anxiety after their diagnosis.”

Available support for your heart and mind

Unsurprisingly, our mental and physical health go hand-in-hand, as a survey conducted by the British Heart Foundation (BMF) found. Results from the 2018 survey revealed that more than two-thirds said their heart condition has affected their mental health, and especially in terms of anxiety (77%).

Writing in the BHF, Doctor Mike Knapton, a GP and BHF’s Associate Medical Director, recommended that patients experiencing co-occurring cardiovascular and mental health conditions contact their GP surgery to access necessary support services.

He said: "It's really important to talk to someone about your problems. Otherwise, it can be hard to access support… Most doctors are aware of these issues and willing to help. If you’re not getting the support you need, you can ask to see someone else at the surgery or consider other ways to get help.”

As well as professional support, the BHF recommends that simple lifestyle changes can also be part of the solution to improve overall wellbeing, such as light exercise, improving your diet, reducing alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking.

Additionally, further support can be accessed through the BHF’s Heart Helpline on 0300 330 331 (Monday and Friday, 9 am to 5 pm) and through local Heart Support Groups.