Life Expectancy After a Heart Attack

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Each year, about 580,000 people have their first heart attack. Heart attacks do not necessarily result in death, but having one does mean significant changes to your lifestyle and health management. In all cases, heart attacks occur when oxygen cannot reach the heart muscle. In many cases, this results from complete or partial blockages to the arteries supplying your heart with blood.

Heart attacks are frightening, and if you’ve had one, you may wonder about your life expectancy going forward. However, it’s possible to prevent another heart attack so you can live a longer, healthier life. Working together with your doctor is the best way to find effective treatments that fit your unique needs.

Heart Attack Stories: Cardiac Rehab

Life Expectancy After Heart Attack Statistics

It’s difficult to know exactly how long a person will live after experiencing a heart attack, but recent studies have examined life expectancy among specific groups of people, including men, women, Caucasians, and individuals of African descent. These studies look at years of potential life lost (YPLL) after a heart attack. YPLLs compare differences in life expectancy among patients with the same condition and similar characteristics within the general population.

Research shows that, in general:

  • Men and women have similar life expectancies after a heart attack

  • People of African descent usually have a lower life expectancy compared to their Caucasian counterparts

  • Women typically lose about 10.5% of their expected life compared to men

  • People of African descent lose 6.2% more of their lives than Caucasian people

Know Heart Attack Warning Signs

Your chance of living long after a heart attack increases dramatically if you know the heart attack warning signs. The sooner you recognize you may have a problem, the sooner you can begin to receive life-saving treatment. Immediate treatment also helps preserve the health of your heart, which helps to increase your lifespan.

Early major warning signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort: You may feel pain or discomfort in the center or left side of your chest. This sensation may persist or may come and go. Many people describe the sensation as a feeling of fullness, squeezing, or pressure.

  • Pain in your upper body: During a heart attack, you may feel pain in your arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

  • Shortness of breath: Trouble breathing often accompanies chest pain or discomfort.

  • Other symptoms: Many people experience more general symptoms during a heart attack, such as nausea, light-headedness, or breaking out in a cold sweat.

Preventing Another Heart Attack

If you’ve had a heart attack, you can increase your life expectancy by working diligently to prevent another one. There are several ways to lower your risk for a second heart attack, including:

  • Taking your medications: After a heart attack, your doctor may prescribe several medications to help keep your heart functioning normally. It’s critically important to take these medications exactly as your doctor prescribes.

  • Keeping follow-up appointments: Regular check-ups with your doctor increase the chance of identifying potential problems early and can help you avoid another heart attack.

  • Completing cardiac rehab: Many people participate in cardiac rehabilitation following a heart attack. In cardiac rehab, specialists work with you to improve your physical fitness and reduce sources of stress in your life. Learning to eat a heart-healthy diet is also usually included in this process.

  • Lowering risk factors: Certain risk factors, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and diseases like diabetes all increase your chance of having another heart attack. Managing these risk factors with lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medications, helps you keep your heart healthy.

  • Finding support: Talking with others who’ve experienced and survived a heart attack may help lower anxiety, stress, and loneliness.

Many people go on to live full, healthy lives after having a heart attack. Knowing common heart attack symptoms, as well as taking steps to prevent another heart attack, are great ways to increase your life expectancy after such an event. Working with your doctor can help you determine what types of lifestyle changes or medications may work best to keep your heart healthy and your life as long as possible.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jul 23
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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