If you’ve had a heart attack, you may wonder how your life will change and if you’ll ever feel like yourself again. You may be afraid to do the activities you once enjoyed and fear having another heart attack. Here’s what you need to know about recovery, managing stress and preventing a heart attack in the future.
What to expect when you return home
When you first get home from the hospital after having a heart attack, you may feel weak and tired. This is normal. While it’s important to rest and get good sleep after having a heart attack, your cardiologist may recommend that you increase your physical activity to reduce your risk of another heart attack.
For the first few weeks after a heart attack, do your best to get showered and dressed each morning, spread activities throughout the day to pace yourself, and walk daily as prescribed by your cardiologist. When you start to feel better, you can do light chores like cooking, dusting, washing dishes and folding laundry.
Avoid lifting, pulling or pushing heavy objects until your doctor tells you it’s safe to do so.
Your physician will also tell you when it’s safe to drive, return to work and do more vigorous physical activities.
Get social support
Experiencing a heart attack can be traumatic and may leave you feeling fearful, depressed, angry or anxious. Again, this is all normal. If you feel overwhelmed, I encourage you to talk with your cardiologist, primary care provider, counselor, trusted loved one or faith leader. Having support can help you cope with the feelings that come up after having a serious medical event.
It’s also essential to resume social activities and hobbies (once you get the OK from your doctor). Making time for activities you enjoy can help relieve stress and help you feel better.
Cardiac rehabilitation can be an important part of recovery if you’ve experienced a heart attack, heart surgery, angioplasty or heart failure. It is a medically supervised program that includes exercise training to improve your heart health, education on living a heart-healthy lifestyle (like quitting smoking, losing weight and choosing healthy foods) and counseling to reduce stress.
Ask your doctor if you’re eligible for cardiac rehab.
What to do if you have chest pain
Some people experience dull chest pain or pressure following a heart attack. This is called angina pectoris or unstable angina. It may occur after eating a large meal, physical activity or intense emotions. Angina will usually go away quickly. If you experience chest pain, sit down and rest for five minutes. If you have nitroglycerin, place the tablet or spray under your tongue. If you still have chest pain after five minutes, call 911 immediately—don’t attempt to drive yourself to the hospital.
Tell your doctor if you experience any chest pain, even if it goes away after a few minutes.
Preventing another heart attack
If you’ve had a heart attack, you’re at higher risk of having another one in the future. According to the American Heart Association, 20% of people over age 45 who have a heart attack will have another within five years.
Reduce your risk by taking your medications as prescribed, participating in cardiac rehabilitation, going to your follow-up appointments, not smoking, eating healthy food, being physically activity and managing risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Talk to your cardiologist about other ways you can reduce your risk of another heart attack.
To maintain good heart health, see your primary care provider every year for a physical. To find a provider near you, visit www.pardeehospital.org.
Dr. Gary Fontana is a board-certified interventional cardiologist at Pardee Cardiology Associates.