Preventing Another Heart Attack: What to Expect
As you recover from a heart attack, the treatment plan you follow and the lifestyle changes you make will help get your heart healthy again–and also play a big role in preventing another heart attack from occurring. This is crucial, because having one heart attack significantly raises your risk of having another one. As you recover, you’ll need to commit to the lifestyle changes your doctor has recommended and stay on top of your treatment plan. And make sure you understand all the signs of heart attack and have an emergency plan in place should one occur again. Understand some changes and treatments will be lifelong, but you can do it, and you’ll have a lot of help from your healthcare team.
Many of the same things that can help you recover from a heart attack can help reduce your risk of another. Your recovery plan should address any of the following risk factors you have and provide ways to help you improve them. Change isn’t easy, so don’t try to go it alone. Your healthcare team is there to help with expert guidance and tested methods.
Do your best to avoid or manage:
High blood sugar levels (for those with diabetes)
Lack of exercise
Diet high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fats
Excessive alcohol use
After a heart attack, you’ll likely be prescribed medications to help you reduce your risk factors. These can include medicines to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Take all your medications exactly as prescribed and let your doctor know if you’re having problems.
Your doctor may also recommend cardiac rehabilitation, which has been proven to improve heart attack recovery and reduce the risk of another heart attack. It’s too good to pass up but, unfortunately, many people do. Up to 35% of heart attack survivors who are eligible don’t participate, with women less likely to participate than men.
It can help to know what it’s like. Cardiac rehabilitation starts with a personalized exercise prescription from an exercise physiologist. A cardiologist oversees the plan, which involves physical activities much like working out at the gym, plus monitoring of your progress. Some programs also provide nutritional counseling and the social support of fellow survivors. You can expect to attend sessions three times a week for 12 to 18 weeks.
Effective treatment isn’t just physical, it’s mental and emotional, too. A cardiac rehabilitation program often addresses these aspects, but many other resources are available. If you experience intense feelings after a heart attack, don’t brush them off. It’s normal to feel sad, angry, and anxious. But it’s also necessary to get help to feel better. It can take the form you’re comfortable with, from a support group to professional counseling.
If you’re following your treatment plan and living a healthy lifestyle, you’re less likely to experience another heart attack. However, it’s important to know the signs of a heart attack so you can react quickly if necessary. Most people know chest pain is a symptom of heart attack, but according to one study, one in three people who had a heart attack didn’t experience it. Other symptoms can be subtler, and you may have different symptoms from one heart attack to the next. In a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 27% of people knew all the major symptoms. Make sure you’re aware of them and help educate those around you.
The most common symptoms of heart attack are:
Chest pain or discomfort
Pressure, fullness or a squeezing sensation within your chest
Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach
Any one of these symptoms should prompt an immediate call to 9-1-1. Nearly half of the deaths from heart attack happen outside a hospital, in part because warning signs aren’t understood and treatment is delayed. Women in particular are at risk of delay because they worry about raising a false alarm. It’s always better to make the call.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, the main thing to remember is to call 9-1-1 right away. Ask your doctor in advance if you should chew an aspirin or take a nitroglycerin pill while you wait for the ambulance. And make a list of pertinent medical information and keep it close at hand.
Your list can include:
Names of medications, when you take them, and how much you take
Your doctor’s name and contact information
Your emergency contact’s name and information
Your date of birth and ethnicity
A brief summary of your medical history, including conditions you’ve been diagnosed with
Remember, in following your treatment plan and making lifestyle changes, you’re doing two things at once. You’re not only giving yourself a better chance at the best recovery from heart attack, you’re also lowering your risk of having to do it all over again. You may even find that a healthier life after heart attack is much happier than life before.