Heart attack survivors should reach out to friends and family during recovery. Researchers from Ohio State University studied the effect of social isolation on mice after surviving a heart attack. Socially isolated mice that underwent cardiac arrest suffered higher degrees of emotional, neurological and cardiac dysfunction than socially active mice that also underwent cardiac arrest.
Adult male mice were placed in isolated housing or paired housing with female mice for two weeks. A portion of the male rats were injected with a mixture of chemicals to simulate heart failure and resuscitation. The mice remained in their isolated or paired housing after the surgery. To measure depressive behaviors, the mice were subjected to swim tests: the amount of time spent floating in the water correlated to depressive response to stress. The mice were also allowed to run freely in a play area: time spent outside the center of the play field correlated to anxiety. The mice were tested for cardiac functioning, brain damage, and depressive moods for a three-day period after cardiac arrest and resuscitation.
The results showed isolated mice that underwent cardiac failure and resuscitation spent more time floating than swimming during the swim test, and a shorter amount of time playing in the center of the play field: both significant indications of depressive and anxious behavior. They also suffered from higher degrees of brain damage and inflammation than the other mice, which affected normal brain regulation of the heart. As a result, heart rate and function was irregular. Although all of the experimental mice experienced neurological, cardiac, and behavioral dysfunction to some degree due to cardiac arrest, social interaction appeared to significantly reduce the effects.
Previous research has shown that social isolation is detrimental to heart attack survivors. Decreased blood flow to the brain causes irregular brain function, which can lead to emotional dysfunction and the development of depression. Depression has been found to increase brain damage in cardiac patients, decreasing the neurological control of the heart and, ultimately, the heart’s ability to heal successfully. Similar studies that utilized human subjects support this theory.
One study found that depression increased the mortality rate amongst cardiac patients during long-term periods of recovery. More and more research is showing how interconnected our mind and bodies are, however, it is important to note that this study was done on mice and their emotions are deduced through behaviors, not their subjective experience of depression or anxiety.
So don’t be afraid to lean on family and friends during periods of recovery, it just might prolong your life significantly.