Women are more likely to experience long-term anxiety after cardiac arrest than men, finds a study.

The study, presented at ESC Acute Cardiovascular Care 2023, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), revealed that more than 40 percent of women report anxiety four months after a cardiac arrest compared with 23 percent of men.

Cardiac arrest causes one in five deaths in industrialized countries. The heart unexpectedly stops pumping blood around the body and if the flow is not restored quickly, the individual passes out and dies within 10 to 20 minutes.

Less than 10 percent of people who have a cardiac arrest survive hospital discharge.

Anxiety and depression are frequent after critical illness and are strongly associated with reduced quality of life in patients and relatives.

“Cardiac arrest occurs with little or no warning and it’s common to feel anxious and low afterward,” said Dr. Jesper Kjaergaard of Rigshospitalet-Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark.

“After the initial shock and confusion, patients and their families have an abrupt change in their way of life, with medical investigations to determine the cause of cardiac arrest and in some cases diagnosis of a condition requiring treatment. This may add to the stress and anxiety.

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“Our study indicates that women are more affected psychologically and could be targeted for extra support,” Kjaergaard said.

Between 2016 and 2021, the study enrolled 245 patients who had a cardiac arrest in the community and were admitted to the hospital in a coma.

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Psychological symptoms were assessed during a four-month follow-up appointment.

Depression and anxiety scores were found significantly higher in women (3.3 and 6.1, respectively), compared to men (2.6 and 4.5, respectively).

Women also had significantly higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared with men (median score 33 vs. 26, respectively).

In both men and women, anxiety was significantly correlated to PTSD symptoms.

“The findings confirm our experience in clinical practice that the psychological effects of cardiac arrest persist for months. Anxiety was frequent, particularly in women,” Kjaergaard said.

“Our results highlight the need for long-term follow-up of cardiac arrest survivors to identify and treat mental health issues. Patients should be encouraged to tell their healthcare professional about anxiety, depression, and stress related to cardiac arrest.”