Can Heart Surgery Change a Person's Personality?

Posted on March 13, 2014

To date, no study has adequately examined whether heart surgery can change a person's personality, mainly because personality is difficult to define and measure. When recovering from heart surgery, some patients report trouble remembering, slower mental processing and difficulty focusing. Although this condition, often referred to as "pumphead," is usually short-lived, one study of bypass patients has suggested that the associated cognitive changes might worsen over time. Related research, however, indicates it is unlikely that cardiac surgery significantly alters how the brain works.

Coronary artery bypass surgery, the most common heart operation in adults, helps to increase blood flow to the cardiac muscle when the heart arteries have become too narrow. During the surgery, a patient's brain is subjected to many stressors, which may include medications, sleep deprivation, inflammation and blood clots. Normally the brain is protected from such assaults by the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that walls off the organ from the bloodstream. Yet when our arteries narrow, the function of the blood-brain barrier may be disrupted, allowing circulating substances to enter the brain. The brain's reaction to such influences is as complex and individualized as the brain itself.

A recent analysis of studies that measured depression before and after heart surgery found that the number of patients with depression decreased after surgery. This benefit, however, very likely is related to patients overreporting their depression symptoms just before surgery.

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Source material from Scientific American

Mental Health News