The words “heart attack” can be alarming. But thanks to improvements in medical treatments and procedures, people who survive their first cardiac incident can go on to lead full and productive lives.

Still, it’s important to understand what triggered your heart attack and what you can expect going forward.

The best way to move ahead in your recovery is to make sure your doctor answers your most pressing questions and provides you with clear, detailed instructions before leaving the hospital.

Here are some questions to help guide the conversation with your doctor after a heart attack.

In the past, people who experienced a heart attack could spend days to weeks in the hospital, much of it on strict bed rest.

Today, many are out of bed within a day, walking and engaging in low-level activities a few days later, and then released home.

If you experienced complications or underwent an invasive procedure, such as a coronary artery bypass or angioplasty, you’ll likely require a longer stay.

Most people who’ve experienced a heart attack are prescribed medications, lifestyle changes, and, sometimes, surgical procedures.

Your doctor may also order diagnostic tests to determine the extent of your heart damage and coronary artery disease.

The lifestyle changes that your doctor may recommend include:

  • becoming more active
  • adopting a more heart-healthy diet
  • reducing stress
  • stopping smoking

Participating in cardiac rehabilitation can help:

  • reduce your heart disease risk factors
  • you recover after your heart attack
  • improve your quality of life
  • enhance your emotional stability
  • you manage your disease

Doctors usually recommend a medically supervised program to boost your health through exercise training, education, and counseling.

These programs are often associated with a hospital and involve assistance from a rehabilitation team consisting of a doctor, nurse, dietitian, or other healthcare providers.

You may have enough energy for work and leisure, but it’s important to rest or take a short nap when you feel overly tired.

It’s equally important to participate in social events and incorporate regular physical activity into your daily routine.

Your doctor can provide guidance about what’s best for your specific situation. Your doctor and cardiac rehabilitation team will give you an “exercise prescription.”

If you have chest pain after a heart attack, you need to discuss this immediately with your doctor. Sometimes, fleeting pain after a heart attack can occur.

But you can also have complications after a heart attack that are significant or life threatening that need to be discussed with your doctor immediately. So, any chest pain after a heart attack needs to be taken very seriously.

The time for returning to work can vary from a few days to 6 weeks, depending on:

  • the severity of the heart attack
  • whether you had a procedure
  • the nature of your job duties and responsibilities

Your doctor will determine when it’s appropriate to return by carefully monitoring your recovery and progress.

For several months after a cardiac incident, you may experience what feels like an emotional roller coaster.

Depression is common after a heart attack, particularly if you had to make substantial changes to your regular routine.

Certain medications like beta-blockers that are taken after a heart attack may also be associated with depression.

A twinge of pain may spark fear of another heart attack or death, and you may feel anxiety.

Discuss mood changes with your doctor and family and don’t be afraid to seek professional assistance to help you cope.

Starting or stopping medications or adjusting old medications is common following a heart attack.

You may be prescribed certain medications to reduce your risk for a second heart attack, such as:

  • beta-blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors to rest the heart and interrupt chemicals that can weaken the heart
  • statins to lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation
  • antithrombotics to help prevent blood clots, with or without a stent
  • low dose aspirin to reduce the likelihood of another heart attack

Aspirin therapy can be very effective in the prevention of heart attacks.

It’s typically used to prevent first heart attacks in people who have a high risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (e.g., heart attack and stroke) and a low risk of bleeding. Although aspirin therapy may be considered routine, it’s not recommended for everyone.

Disclose all medications — even over-the-counter drugs, supplements, and herbal medication — with your doctor to prevent drug interactions.

You may wonder how a heart attack will affect your sex life or if it’s safe to have sex at all.

According to the American Heart Association, the possibility of sexual activity causing or increasing the risk of a heart attack is small.

If you’ve been treated and stabilized, you can likely continue your regular pattern of sexual activity within a few weeks after recovery.

Don’t be shy about starting a conversation with your doctor to decide what’s safe for you. It’s important to discuss when you can resume sexual activity.

There’s a lot to consider following a heart attack.

You’ll want to understand:

  • what’s normal
  • what’s cause for concern
  • how to make lifestyle changes or stick to a treatment plan

Remember that your doctor is a partner in your recovery, so don’t hesitate to ask them questions.