Surviving 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, and
  • 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 may recommend:

  • lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, changing your diet, or increasing your physical activity
  • medications, such as aspirin and nitroglycerin tablets for angina (chest pain).
  • medications to lower your cholesterol or blood pressure and help reduce your heart's workload
  • participation in a cardiac rehabilitation program.

Most people who do not have chest pain or other complications are able to return to their normal activities within a few weeks after an uncomplicated heart attack. Most can begin walking immediately and resume sexual activity within a few weeks.

Most patients who do not have chest pain or other complications can usually begin driving within a week, 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.

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 with your doctor. Your doctor can give you medication for anxiety or depression, and may recommend professional counseling. Spend time with family, friends, and even pets. Affection can make you feel better and less lonely. Most people stop feeling depressed after they have fully recovered.

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 discuss it with your family.

The emergency action plan should include

  • warning signs or symptoms of a heart attack
  • information about how to access emergency medical services in your community, including calling emergency services
  • steps you can take while waiting for medical help to arrive, such as taking aspirin
  • important information to take along with you to the hospital, such as a list of medications that you take or that you are allergic to, and name and number of whom you should contact if you go to the hospital

Many heart attack survivors also have chest pain or angina. The pain usually occurs after exertion or with emotional stress and goes away in a few minutes when you rest or take your angina medication - 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 medication. If you think your chest pain could be a heart attack, call emergency services.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jul 31, 2009

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