Cats or dogs: which pet is better for your heart health?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

I adopted my little Lily*, world’s cutest and most affectionate feline, three months after my heart attack. My daughter Larissa, who helped us pick out Lily at the shelter, gave me strict instructions about the kind of cat needed for cardiac recovery: a calm and snuggly lap cat (quite unlike the psycho-special needs-high-anxiety – yet adorable – Lucy who had been my last pet).

About 38% of Canadian households now include a cat like Lily, while 35% of us are dog owners.

But apparently, owning a cat may also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by nearly one-third, researchers told delegates to the International Stroke Conference recently. Their study findings provoked a mixed reaction from heart experts and veterinarians.  And probably dog lovers, too.   Continue reading “Cats or dogs: which pet is better for your heart health?”

A foreshortened future

heart cloud

by Carolyn Thomas   @HeartSisters

Cardiac psychologist and heart attack survivor Dr. Stephen Parker recently described a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that rang a bell for him after his own cardiac event. The PTSD symptom is called “a sense of a foreshortened future“. In other words, after a traumatic event – in this case, a heart attack – the patient “does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span.”  As Dr. Steve tells his own story of this symptom:

“Three months after the heart attack, I went to Home Depot to buy something for the house. I walked inside, saw the plethora of nice things to make a nice house, and started feeling extremely depressed.

“What was the point? I knew I was going to die within a short time.   Continue reading “A foreshortened future”

“I’m not depressed!” – and other ways we deny the stigma of mental illness after a heart attack

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

“This is the most thorough review article I have seen on psychological interventions after heart events,” writes cardiac psychologist Dr. Stephen Parker* about a U.K. study on heart patients. And he should know. Dr. Steve is also a heart attack survivor himself who has explored his own profound experiences with the depression and anxiety that commonly accompany any cardiac event.

The study, reported in the British Journal of Cardiology in July 2010, followed over 400 London heart patients for two years – of whom at least half showed symptoms of anxiety or depression when first interviewed.  But the study authors described their participants in this way:

“Many of these heart patients were reluctant to accept a diagnosis of anxiety or depression and expressed reservations to the clinical psychologist by rejecting the term ‘depression’ for describing their problems, or by expressing negative views about attending a mental health service for treatment.”

In fact, these ‘negative views’ associated with the stigma of having mental health problems were so strong that all psychological interventions studied were provided to heart patients as part of a scheduled Cardiac Rehabilitation program at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London – instead of at a mental health facility.   Continue reading ““I’m not depressed!” – and other ways we deny the stigma of mental illness after a heart attack”