Recovery Tips for Life After a Heart Attack
It’s normal to be scared and overwhelmed after having a heart attack. A heart attack, or a myocardial infarction, is a traumatic experience and most patients have many questions afterwards about how to resume their normal daily and weekly routine.
A heart attack takes place when blood flow to the heart muscle is significantly reduced or stopped completely. It is a major physical and emotional event and should be treated as a health wake-up call in order to prevent future events.
The post-heart attack recovery period is the time to adopt positive health habits and make lifestyle changes that will lower your risk of another event. By taking certain precautionary steps and changing certain patterns of behavior, you will set yourself up for the best chances of success.
As a cardiologist, I recommend these five basic steps to my patients in the post-heart attack recovery period.
After a heart attack, you might worry that being physically active will trigger another attack. In fact, most doctors will advise patients to get a little bit more exercise than they did prior to their heart attack, and here’s why.
Exercise is an important part of recovery, and it is also key to leading a heart healthy lifestyle which is more important now than ever before. Talk to your doctor about what level of activity is right for your situation and if cardiac rehabilitation might be of use.
Tell Your Doctor If You’re Having Chest Pain
Unfortunately, having a heart attack puts you at risk for having another one. While slight chest discomfort that goes away quickly can be normal, you’ll want to talk to your doctor if you’re having any sustained pain or pressure especially if it reminds you of your previous heart attack symptoms.
Remember that the symptoms of a second heart attack may be different from the first, so be sure to track your symptoms and communicate with your physician about changes and concerns. Shortness of breath, pain in the upper body (like your arms, back, neck or jaw), nausea and fatigue can all be indicators of an issue with your heart.
Expect Certain Changes
Following a heart attack, many people go back to work, return to driving and resume the hobbies they enjoy. However, it’s important to remember that the road to recovery will be a winding one that takes time. As you and your healthcare team plan for your future heart health, you may need to make some changes to your diet, exercise routine, stress levels and more. Try to have patience — the important thing is that you stay healthy.
Don’t Skip Rehab
One of the most important steps you can take in your recovery is to participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program. During this time, a team of specialists including doctors, nurses, physical therapists and more will help you navigate the reality of life after a heart attack. You’ll learn how to stay physically active (and safe), what to eat (and what to stay away from) and what lifestyle modifications you need to consider making.
Pay Attention to Your Feelings
It’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions after a heart attack. You might feel scared, sad, depressed, angry, anxious or all of the above. On average, heart attack patients may experience a wide range of emotions for two to six months following the event.
Don’t bottle up your feelings or assume they’ll go away on their own. Consider joining a support group so you can see how others have dealt with being in a similar situation. Also let your doctor know how you’re feeling so you can get help on your road to recovery.
How Healthy Is Your Heart? Learn more at Ochsner.org/HeartMonth