Spouses of heart attack victims are at high risk of anxiety, depression and suicide because the shock is similar to post traumatic stress disorder, according to research.
Men are more susceptible than women to the phenomenon which persists even if their partner survives, say scientists.
The study shows for the first time that a heart attack is a bigger psychological blow to the victim’s wife or husband than any other illness and flags up the need for providing them with care and attention.
They suffer more than spouses of people who die from, or survive, other conditions, according to the findings published online in the European Heart Journal.
Using Danish registries, the researchers compared 16,506 spouses of people who died from a heart attack between 1997 and 2008 with 49,518 spouses of people who died from other causes.
They also looked at the use of anti-depressants and benzodiazepines used for treating anxiety before and up to a year after the event, records of contact with the health system for depression and suicide.
Copenhagen cardiologist Dr Emil Fosbol said they found more than three times the number of people whose spouses died from a heart attack were using antidepressants in the year after the event compared with the year before.
In addition, nearly 50 times as many spouses used a benzodiazepine after the event compared to before.
He added that overall, the rates of depression were significantly higher after the event in the fatal heart attack group.
The researchers believe it is the sudden and unexpected nature of a heart attack that causes the more extreme impact on the spouse.
Dr Fosbol said: ‘If your partner dies suddenly from a heart attack, you have no time to prepare psychologically for the death, whereas if someone is ill with, for example, cancer, there is more time to grow used to the idea.
‘The larger psychological impact of a sudden loss is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.’