May 26, 2010 (New Orleans) -- After bypass surgery to open clogged heart arteries, women are more likely than men to suffer persistent feelings that life is not worth living -- feelings that impede their physical recovery.
"Women that felt that way a month after surgery have more trouble climbing up and down stairs, even dressing and undressing," says researcher Zach Z. Cernovsky, PhD, of the University of Western Ontario.
Men tended to express different feelings -- "that I have no control over anything and I am crippled," he says.
"And this didn't affect their functioning," Cernovsky says.
The bottom line, he says, is that all people who have bypass surgery should undergo psychological counseling as the vast majority will have emotional problems months later.
"Counseling early in recovery could play a preventative role, especially if tailored to gender-specific concerns," Cernovsky says.
Since people now live years, even decades, after bypass surgery, success is no longer judged in terms of death rates, but rather in terms of quality of life, Cernovsky says.
So he and colleagues examined depressive symptoms in 128 bypass surgery patients -- 98 men and 30 women -- a month after being discharged from the hospital.
The average age of participants was 63; 4% had one graft, 13% had two grafts, 52% needed three grafts, and 31% had four grafts.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
Pessimism Affects Daily Activities
Interestingly, there was no association between the number of grafts or other surgical variables and physical recovery or feelings of fatigue or vigor one month after hospital discharge in either men or women, Cernovsky says.
However, the better a person's mood, the more likely he or she was able to go about daily activities.
The more pessimistic they felt, the less likely they could go about their everyday routines.
Men more often than women expressed pessimistic feelings such as having no control over anything, feeling maimed or disfigured, and being discouraged about the future.
Women were more likely than men to feel that life was not worth living. And the gloomier they felt, the worse their physical functioning.
Mariwan Husni, MD, a consultant psychiatrist in London, tells WebMD that a study in Europe showed similar findings.
"Men and women's different role in society may explain the findings in part," he says.
"Men are used to being in control, so maybe that makes them less able to cope with health issues that are out of their control," Husni says.
This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.