Life After a Heart Attack

After a heart attack, without proper caution and changes, your loved one is at higher risk of another heart attack or other heart problems.

Helpful Highlights

  • Keep in mind that recovery is a long process and may take several weeks or months after leaving the hospital.

  • After having a heart attack, your loved one is at a higher risk of having another heart attack or other heart problems in the future.

  • Nearly 25% of heart attack survivors develop depression, which is four times higher than the average rate.

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Risk of another heart attack is higher

  • Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack (they may be different than the first one).

  • Get CPR certified in case of cardiac arrest.

  • Call your loved one's cardiologist's office immediately after calling for an ambulance.

  • Make sure you have the most up-to-date list of medications to give emergency medical personnel.

Many people have chest pain, even long after their heart attack, especially with eating a large meal or engaging in moderate to strenuous physical activity. Talk to their health care provider about any chest pain - noting the time of day it occurred, what seemed to cause it, how long it lasted, and if anything relieved it. Getting their blood pressure, pulse, and even oxygenation during chest pain is very helpful to providers. Providers can make recommendations and prescribe medications to help relieve symptoms.

Risk for depression is very high

25% of people (1 in 4) who have had heart attacks experience depression. About the same number experience anxiety, which may contribute to the development of depression. Encourage your loved one to...

  • Share their feelings with you, inviting them to be honest and candid, and don't judge them for what they may say.

  • Speak with other heart attack survivors, whether that's in an organized support group or just others you or they may know.

  • Speak to a counselor about how they're coping with this life change and everything associated with it.

  • Have their primary care provider or cardiologist periodically conduct a depression screening.

What to expect for life after a heart attack

  • Because your loved one is now at higher risk for another heart attack or developing other heart problems in the future, there will be monitoring (vitals taken daily), many follow-up appointments (primary care and cardiology), regular testing, and many other recommendations (mostly lifestyle changes).

  • Your loved one will be prescribed new medications. Some they will take short-term and some they will continue to take for the rest of their life. Adjustments will likely be made in the long-term medications over time.

  • Your loved one will have lingering weakness and fatigue for several days or even weeks after discharge from the hospital. The cardiologist will give them guidance on rest, acceptable activities, things to avoid, and things to gradually start doing. Activity promotes strength and strength helps with recovery, so encourage your loved one to do the activities as recommended.

  • Your loved one will likely be referred to a cardiac rehabilitation program (typically 36 sessions, 2 to 3 per week for 12 to 18 weeks), which will help safely guide recovery and activity level, improve energy, and has been proven to reduce death by 47% and reduce the risk for another heart attack by 31%. Make sure they go!

  • In general, most people can return to work or resume their usual activities anywhere between 2 weeks to 3 months after their heart attack, especially with cardiac rehab.

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