How to Prevent a Second Heart Attack

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If you’ve had a heart attack, you are probably anxious about the possibility of recurrence. Although it’s true that one heart attack increases the chances of having another one, there are ways to minimize the risk.

You may feel unsure about what you should and should not do. You can work closely with your doctor to learn how to lower your chance of having a second heart attack. Acquiring healthy habits and sticking with them could save your life.

Life After Heart Attack: Recovery

Make lifestyle changes to prevent a second heart attack.

If you’ve had a heart attack, a healthy lifestyle has never been more important. Here are some key lifestyle factors you should be aware of:

  • Activity: When you return home from the hospital following a heart attack, you should be able to gradually increase your activity. Just be sure to follow your doctor’s advice. Exercise strengthens your heart muscle just like all your other muscles.

  • Diet: Lower the amount of saturated and trans fats you eat, one of the main culprits behind heart attacks. Some of the worst offenders are cookies, chips, French fries, doughnuts, and processed meats. Learn to look for and stay away from foods that contain “partially hydrogenated oils.”

  • Healthy weight: Being overweight raises the risk of a heart attack. So get your BMI—or body mass index—down to between 18.5 and 24.9. If you are having trouble losing weight, talk with your doctor about weight loss programs and support.

  • No smoking: You cut your risk of heart attack in half if you stop smoking. It’s a tough habit to break, but it can be done.

  • Stress and depression: A heart attack can leave you feeling worried and sad. Emotional and physical well-being are linked, so don’t ignore the importance of a healthy mind as well as body. Talk with your doctor if your depression lasts more than a couple of weeks.

Take your prescribed medications to prevent a second heart attack.

The most important thing to know about your medication is that you have to take it. If you are hesitating because of side effects, cost, or any other concerns, talk with your healthcare provider. There are several categories of heart medications that can help lower your chances of having another heart attack, including:

  • Anti-platelets: These drugs keep blood clots from forming by preventing the platelets in your blood from sticking together. Aspirin is an anti-platelet, but there are prescription medications as well.

  • Beta-blockers: Beta blockers slow your heart rate and make it beat with less force. This reduces the workload on your heart and lowers your blood pressure.

  • Blood thinners: Though they don’t actually thin the blood, they can prevent blood clots from forming in your arteries. If you had coronary angioplasty--a procedure to open your arteries following a heart attack--these drugs will help keep your arteries open.

  • High blood pressure medications: There are several categories of medication to lower blood pressure. If you are experiencing side effects from one, be sure to ask your doctor for an alternative.

  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs: Statins are the most common group of drugs doctors use to help the body process and remove the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. This protects the lining of the arteries, decreasing a major risk factor for a second heart attack.

Your doctor may prescribe other medications to lower your chance of having a second heart attack. This can include vasodilators, diuretics, calcium channel blockers, or digitalis.

Ask your doctor about cardiac rehabilitation.

Cardiac rehabilitation programs are becoming more and more common. If you are feeling unsure about what you can and can’t do, they can help you improve your heart health under close professional supervision. A team including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and even family and friends will help you with exercise, education about diet and smoking cessation, and counseling to lower stress.  Ask your doctor if you qualify for a cardiac rehab program, and how you can get started in one.

In the past decade, there has been great progress in treating first heart attacks. Survivors now have the opportunity to improve their general health and lower their chances of a second heart attack. It may take focus and commitment, but the rewards can be a longer and better life.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Mar 10

  1. Life After a Heart Attack. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartattack/lifeafter

  2.  Preventing a Second Heart Attack. University of Rochester Medical Center. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=56&contentid=2446

  3.  Heart Attack. CardioSmart. American College of Cardiology. https://www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Conditions/Heart-Attack

  4. Helping to Prevent a Second Heart Attack. St. Vincent. https://www.stvincent.org/Health-Library/Integrated-Cholesterol-Center/Understanding-Cholesterol/Why-Control-Cholesterol/Helping-to-Prevent-a-Second-Heart-Attack.aspx

  5. Heart Disease and Aspirin Therapy. American Heart Association. http://news.heart.org/heart-disease-aspirin-therapy/

  6. What is Cardiac Rehabilitation. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/CardiacRehab/What-is-Cardiac-Rehabilitation_UCM_307049_Article.jsp#.WHO5K7GZPBI

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