Life after a Heart Attack
There are millions of people who have survived a heart attack. Many recover fully and are able to lead normal lives.
If you have already had a heart attack, your goals are to:
- Recover and resume normal activities as much as possible
- Prevent another heart attack
- Prevent complications, such as heart failure or cardiac arrest.
After a Heart Attack, you will need to see your doctor regularly for checkups and tests to see how your heart is doing. Your doctor will also most likely recommend:
- Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, changing your diet, or increasing your physical activity
- Medications such as aspirin, nitroglycerin tablets for angina, medicines to lower your cholesterol or blood pressure, and medicines to help reduce your heart’s workload
- That you participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program.
Exercise is good for your heart muscle and overall health. It can help you lose weight, keep your cholesterol and blood pressure under control, reduce stress, and lift your mood. If you have angina after your heart attack, you will need to learn when to rest and when and how to take medicine for Angina .
Returning to Usual Activities
After a heart attack, most people are able to return to their normal activities. Ask your doctor when you should go back to:
- Physical activity
- Sexual activity
- Strenuous activities (running, heavy lifting, etc.)
- Air travel.
Most people without chest pain following an uncomplicated heart attack can safely return to most of their usual activities within a few weeks. Most can begin walking immediately. Sexual activity with the usual partner can also begin within a few weeks for most patients without chest pain or other complications.
Driving can usually begin within a week for most patients without chest pain or other complications if allowed by state law. Each state has rules for driving a motor vehicle following a serious illness. Patients with complications or chest pain should not drive until their symptoms have been stable for a few weeks.
Your doctor will tell you when you should return to each of these activities.
Anxiety and Depression After a Heart Attack
After a heart attack, many people worry about having another heart attack. They often feel depressed and may have trouble adjusting to a new lifestyle. You should discuss your feelings of anxiety or depression with your doctor. Your doctor can give you medicine for anxiety or depression, if needed. Spend time with family, friends, and even pets. Affection can make you feel better and less lonely. Most people do not continue to feel depressed after they have fully recovered.
Know How and When to Seek Medical Attention
Having a heart attack increases your chances of having another one. Therefore, it is very important that you and your family know how and when to seek medical attention. Talk to your doctor about making an emergency action plan, and talk with your family about it. The plan should include:
- signs and symptoms of a heart attack
- Instructions for the prompt use of aspirin and nitroglycerin
- How to access emergency medical services in your community
- The location of the nearest hospital that offers 24-hour emergency heart care.
Many heart attack survivors also have Chest pain or Angina . The pain usually occurs after exertion and goes away in a few minutes when you rest or take your angina medicine (nitroglycerin) as directed. In a heart attack, the pain is usually more severe than angina, and it does not go away when you rest or take your angina medicine. If in doubt whether your chest pain is angina or a heart attack, call 9-1-1.
Unfortunately, most heart attack victims wait 2 hours or more after their symptoms begin before they seek medical help. This delay can result in death or lasting heart damage.
Revision date: June 11, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.