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Owners of a Lonely Heart

If you're depressed after having a
heart attack, you're more
likely to die.

Heart attack survivors have a hard enough time dealing with the aftermath of their illness, from switching to a healthier lifestyle to incorporating medication into their daily routine. Now, they have another obstacle to overcome: women and men who show mild to moderate depression while hospitalized for a heart attack are more likely to die in the following year.

Of a group of almost 300 women and just over 800 men undergoing treatment for a heart attack, nearly half of the women and a third of the men showed symptoms of mild depression, report Nancy Frasure-Smith, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Montreal Heart Institute in Quebec. Despite this gender disparity, 8% of the downhearted women and 7% of the men passed away 12 months after being hospitalized. Only 2% of nondepressed patients died so soon, reports Frasure-Smith, a psychologist.

Of course, the trauma of having a heart attack renders patients generally vulnerable to negative thoughts. Male subjects, however, were most likely to have low spirits if they lived alone and were unmarried, says Frasure-Smith, while single women who lived by themselves were least likely to feel low. This finding also holds true for men and women who are healthy and have no heart problems. The researchers suggest that men feel especially close to their spouses, while women benefit most from a varied network of social relationships. Still, they warn, there is little support for the idea that women who live alone after a heart attack are more likely to survive it.