Improve recovery for younger heart attack patients with social support

Oct. 17, 2014—If you know a young or middle-aged person who’s had a heart attack, make a point of offering your support. Without social support from their family and friends, younger patients are more likely to have depression and other risk factors for ongoing cardiac disease, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

About the study

In this study, 3,432 male and female heart attack patients, ages 18 to 55, were surveyed at one month after their heart attacks and again at 12 months after. They answered questions about how much social support they had. The researchers defined social support as the perception of having family or friends who do one or more of the following:

  • Provide companionship and act as confidants
  • Offer advice and information
  • Display emotional concern
  • Give financial or material support

The surveys revealed that 728 (21 percent) of the patients had low social support. Compared with patients who had moderate or high social support, these 728 men and women were more likely to smoke and abuse alcohol. They also tended to be single, unemployed and living alone.

One month after having a heart attack, patients with low social support were more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes and depression—known risk factors for heart disease.

On average, both one month and 12 months after a heart attack, patients who claimed low social support also reported lower mental functioning, lower quality of life and more symptoms of depression.

Previous studies have shown that, compared to older adults, younger men and women in general require larger social networks to maintain a sense of well-being. In addition, their support networks tend to have fewer family members but more friends and co-workers. Yet their stage of life—which often includes dealing with work stress and raising kids—can compromise these support networks.

For women, low social support may be, in part, the result of a tendency to put their role as caretaker for others ahead of taking care of their own health , according to background information in the study.

With or without social support, heart attack patients between 18 and 55 have a low mortality rate. But this study suggests that without sufficient social support, younger patients may experience other negative health outcomes and could benefit from more support from friends and family to reduce their risk.

To learn more, read the full study.

The take-home message
Friends can mean a lot to a heart attack patient—especially those who are younger. Your companionship to someone surviving a heart attack could improve the way he or she recovers. To provide concrete support to someone who has had a heart attack, consider:

  • Delivering a heart-healthy home-cooked meal
  • Lending an ear, on the phone or in person
  • Offering to walk together regularly
  • Giving financial support if it is needed
  • Providing transportation to doctors’ appointments
  • Helping your friend find community resources for home care

If you are struggling with social support after surviving a heart attack, you may want to consider joining a support group to meet people and learn more about coping with heart disease.

Depression can raise the risk for future cardiac problems, so it’s important to seek treatment.


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