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Understanding Postsurgery Depression

Overview

Postsurgery depression should always be taken seriously. It’s a complication that can happen after any type of surgery. But many doctors fail to warn their patients about the risk. Postsurgery depression can be caused by factors such as:

  • chronic pain
  • reactions to anesthesia
  • reactions to painkillers
  • facing one’s own mortality
  • the physical and emotional stress of surgery

While certain surgeries may carry a higher risk of postoperative depression, any surgery can cause it. A 2016 study found a link between postsurgery depression and people who experience chronic pain. Postsurgery depression can also be a predictor of pain that will follow.

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Symptoms

Symptoms of postsurgery depression

Symptoms of postsurgery depression can be easy to overlook because some of them may seem like typical aftereffects of the surgery. Symptoms include:

  • excessive sleeping or sleeping more often than normal
  • irritability
  • loss of interest in activities
  • fatigue
  • anxiety, stress, or hopelessness
  • loss of appetite

Medications and the aftereffects of surgery can cause similar symptoms to postsurgery depression, including loss of appetite or excessive sleeping. But if you have emotional symptoms, such as, hopelessness, agitation, or loss of interest in activities, you should see a doctor. Have them evaluate you for depression.

Many people experience depression immediately after a surgery. If symptoms last longer than two weeks, make an appointment with your doctor to talk about depression. After two weeks, it’s less likely to be a temporary side effect of your medications.

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After heart surgery

Depression after heart surgery

Depression after heart surgery is so common that it has its own name: cardiac depression. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 25 percent of all people who undergo heart surgery will experience depression as a result.

This number is especially significant because the AHA advises that a positive outlook can help improve your healing. The AHA recommends that people undergoing heart surgery and their families know the signs of depression so they can get treatment for it as soon as possible.

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Coping

How to cope with postsurgery depression

Knowing what to do to manage postsurgery depression ahead of time is an important step. Here’s how to cope.

1. See your doctor

Make an appointment to see your doctor if you feel postsurgery depression. They may be able to prescribe medications that won’t interfere with your postoperative care. They can also advise you on whether or not any natural supplements are safe to take or if they could interfere with the medications you’re already taking.

2. Get outside

A change of scenery and a breath of fresh air can help reduce depression. You may be homebound and immobile when recovering from surgery, so ask a friend or family member to help you if needed. Getting out of the house when possible can help improve your mood. Make sure that there’s no risk of infection where you go. You can ask your doctor about this risk beforehand.

3. Focus on the positive

Set positive and realistic goals and celebrate your progress, however small. Doing so can help you maintain a positive outlook. Focus on the long-term recovery instead of the frustration of not being where you want to be as fast as you’d like.

4. Exercise

Exercise as much as you can. Ask your doctor when and how you can exercise after surgery. Even slowly walking down the hospital hallway counts as exercise. Depending on your surgery, you may be able to lift small dumbbells or stretch in bed. Your doctor will help you come up with an exercise plan that’s right for you.

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Helping a loved one

How to help a family member with postsurgery depression

It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of postoperative depression before your loved one undergoes surgery. If you notice they’re experiencing postsurgery depression, you can help in several ways:

  • Stay positive without diminishing their feelings of sadness or grief.
  • Let them vent about any frustrations they have.
  • Encourage healthy habits.
  • Form routines.
  • Help them meet their doctor’s recommendations for diet and exercise.
  • Celebrate every small milestone, because each is significant.

If your loved one’s physical condition starts to improve, the depression may lessen, too.

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