What to Do After Surviving a Heart Attack

The Aftermath of a Heart Attack

A heart attack is a life-threatening medical condition in which the blood flowing to the heart suddenly stops. Damage to surrounding tissues occurs immediately. Surviving a heart attack ultimately depends on the severity of the condition, as well as how quickly it is treated.

You will need to be treated for coronary heart disease after you survive a heart attack. Adherence to the correct form of treatment may help prevent future heart attacks. The thought of another heart attack is a frightening prospect. Knowing what to do after surviving one can significantly reduce the odds of suffering from another attack.

Take It Easy Until Your Doctor Says So

A heart attack is a life-threatening event — you are lucky to have survived such a serious medical event. You might start feeling better within a couple of weeks, but it’s crucial that you avoid pushing yourself too soon. It may take up to three months before your doctor gives you consent to go back to work.

Ease back gradually into your everyday routine so you don’t risk a relapse. You may have to modify your daily activities if they are stressful. Your doctor will likely advise you to hold off on sex and other physical activities for at least two weeks.

Clarify Any Questions About Medications

Medications are just one part of a typical post-heart attack treatment plan. The medications your doctor prescribes you will be based on how much your heart tissue was damaged as well as your other risk factors. Your doctor might prescribe drugs for

  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • high cholesterol
  • chest pain
  • diabetes
  • weight loss
  • overall discomfort

Enter Cardiac Rehab

You will need to enter a cardiac rehabilitation program as well. These programs are run by doctors and other medical professionals, and are designed to monitor your condition and recovery process after a heart attack. Along with education about lifestyle changes, your cardiac risk factors will be monitored to ensure a healthy recovery.

The AHA recommends that you monitor your cardiac risk factors. Possible goal numbers for your risk factors include:

  • blood pressure lower than 140/90 mm Hg
  • waist circumference lower than 35 inches for women and lower than 40 inches for men
  • body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9
  • blood cholesterol under 180 mg/dL
  • blood glucose under 100 mg/dL (during times of normal fasting)

You will obtain regular readings of these metrics during cardiac rehabilitation. However, it helps to be aware of these numbers well beyond rehab.

Makeover Your Lifestyle

A heart-healthy lifestyle can complement a medical treatment plan for heart disease. Consider your current lifestyle habits and look for ways you might improve them.


As long as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, you may begin an exercise program after you have recovered from a heart attack. Regular exercise is certainly important for weight maintenance, but it also works your muscles — the most important muscle being your heart. Any form of exercise that gets your blood pumping is beneficial. When it comes to heart health, however, aerobic exercise is best. Examples include:

  • swimming
  • bicycling
  • jogging or running
  • walking at a moderate to brisk pace

These forms of exercise help increase the amount of oxygen in your body and also strengthen the heart’s ability to pump it through the bloodstream to the rest of your body. As an added bonus, regular aerobic exercise also helps reduce hypertension, stress, and cholesterol.

If you notice any unusual symptoms during exercise, such as prolonged shortness of breath, weak limbs, or chest pain, stop right away and call 911.

Eat Right

A low-fat, low-calorie diet has been proven to help prevent the risk for a heart attack. However, if you have already had a heart attack, eating right is simply a must to prevent future occurrences. Avoid trans fats and saturated fats whenever possible. These fats directly contribute to plaque formation in the arteries. When your arteries become clogged, blood can no longer flow to the heart, resulting in a heart attack.

Eating too many calories and being overweight can also strain your heart. Controlling your weight and eating a balance of plant foods, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products can help. Avoid animal fats. Instead, eat fats that come from plant sources, such as olive oil or nuts.

Quit Smoking

You may have considered quitting in the past, but doing so is even more crucial after a heart attack. Smoking is a risk factor for heart disease because it increases your blood pressure and risk for clots by reducing oxygen cells within the bloodstream. This means that your heart works harder to pump blood and has fewer healthy oxygen cells to maintain optimal performance. Quitting now can significantly improve your overall health and also reduce the occurrence of future heart attacks. Be sure to avoid secondhand smoke, as this poses similar dangers in terms of heart health.

Control Other Risk Factors

Heart disease can run in families, but the majority of heart attacks may be attributed to lifestyle choices. Aside from diet, exercise, and smoking habits, it’s important to control other risk factors that might contribute to future heart attacks. Talk to your doctor about:

  • hypertension
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • thyroid disease
  • unusual amounts of stress
  • mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression

Know When to Seek Medical Attention

You’re at a huge risk for having another heart attack after you recover from your first one. It is vital that you stay in tune with your body and report any symptoms to your doctor immediately, even if they only seem slight. Call 911 if you experience:

  • sudden and extreme fatigue
  • chest pain, and pain that travels to one or both arms
  • rapid heartbeat
  • sweatiness (without exercising)
  • dizziness and/or faintness
  • leg swelling
  • shortness of breath

Long-Term Outlook

Improving your heart health after a heart attack depends on how well you adhere to your doctor’s treatment plan. It also depends on your ability to identify potential problems. You should also be aware of the difference in treatment outcomes between men and women post-heart attack. Researchers found that 42 percent of women die within one year of having a heart attack, compared to 24 percent of men.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 735,000 people have heart attacks every year in the U.S., and that 210,000 of these are second heart attacks. Knowing your risk factors and making over your lifestyle can help you become a survivor for life.

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