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Life After a Heart Attack: A Guide to Recovery

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Modern medicine combined with increased awareness has led to fewer fatal heart attacks. While this is a life-changing prognosis, survivors must consider the long-term physical and emotional impacts. Those who suffer a heart attack have an increased risk of experiencing more cardiac events in the future such as heart failure, angina, arrhythmias, and stroke.1 The American Heart Association reports that around 20 percent of patients ages 45 and older will have another heart attack within five years of their first.2

Survivors can lead a long and productive life when they prioritize recovery and make heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Following a heart attack, consider these important steps to recovery:

Attend Cardiac Rehabilitation

During follow-up appointments with your physician, you may be referred to cardiac rehabilitation. This is a medically supervised program designed to help you recover from a heart attack. It is tailored to your specific health conditions and needs. Within the program, you receive support with physical activity, nutrition, counseling, and lifestyle modifications.

A patient-centered cardiac rehab program is available at Queen’s Heart Institute to support heart attack survivors. It includes two to three sessions per week for approximately 12 to 18 weeks. With the support of a dedicated heart care team, patients typically have more energy, can walk farther, and daily activities or climbing stairs are completed with greater ease. Other benefits include a lower resting blood pressure and heart rate. Cardiac rehabilitation programs can decrease future hospital visits and improve long-term heart-health.

Understand and Manage Risk Factors

To prevent future heart attacks, it is important to be aware of the leading risk factors. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Track your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers on a regular basis to monitor for changes. Speak with your healthcare team about support for quitting smoking and tobacco products. Exercise is critical for heart attack survivors, which plays a role in managing most of the risk factors. A heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts is also an essential part of life after a heart attack.

Take Medication as Prescribed

Following a heart attack, your physician may prescribe medication. These can help reduce the risk of another cardiac event. It is likely that you will need them for the rest of your life, and it is important to take as directed and not stop taking them, even after you begin to feel better.

Find A Support Network

A heart attack is a frightening experience that can take a toll on your mental health. Survivors may experience depression or anxiety. Stress can also have an impact and lead to higher blood pressure levels. Prioritize a supportive community as you navigate recovery and make heart-healthy lifestyle choices. Continue to attend follow-up appointments, as your healthcare team can also provide mental health resources.


1 https://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/annual/measure/heart_attack/state/HI?edition-year=2018

2 https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/life-after-a-heart-attack

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