A heart attack can be a frightening, life-changing event. Returning to normal life after surviving a heart attack can be difficult. While the road to recovery can be overwhelming, most people can go on to experience normal lives while taking measures to prevent heart disease.
What to expect
In the event of a heart attack, the first step is to seek treatment. Recognize the symptoms of a heart attack. If you think that you’re having a heart attack, the first step is to call 911. The symptoms can vary from case to case, and can include, but are not limited to a sudden onset of chest pain, pressure, feeling faint or dizzy. If you experience any of those symptoms, call for an ambulance; it’s better to be safe than sorry.
It is common for cases to be treated with clot-dissolving drugs, a balloon angioplasty, or a combination of various treatments depending on the nature and severity of the heart attack.
In the Hospital
If you’ve just had a heart attack and have received treatment in a hospital, you will most likely stay in the hospital for a few days while you condition is monitored. Your condition will be the most unstable within 48 hours of a heart attack. You will most likely be admitted to a cardiac intensive care unit (CICU); a ward specialized in monitoring heart conditions.
Most hospital stays for heart attack victims last 3-5 days. During that time, your heart function, blood pressure, and blood glucose will be closely monitored. For some, blood glucose will need to be managed with insulin while recovering. During your time in the hospital, you may feel tired. Get plenty of rest, and do not overexert yourself. Keep visiting periods short, and eat light meals; talking and eating too much can put unneeded stress on your heart.
While you’re in the hospital, underlying conditions that may have contributed to your heart attack may be addressed. If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, your doctors may create a treatment plan. You can reduce the risk of having another heart attack by following a treatment plan, which can include medications and lifestyle changes.
After going home
Going home after a heart attack can be overwhelming. You may find it difficult to adapt to your treatment plan. Be sure to contact your doctor about any questions you have about your treatment plan and any prescribed medications. If you can, have family members or friends aid you with various tasks while you recover.
Your heart needs time to recover after a heart attack. Avoid excess physical activity, as it will put unnecessary strain on your heart. In other words, your first days and weeks home should be similar to your stay in the hospital. Not only that, but you should avoid driving while you are recovering, if you can.
You should avoid working for some time while you recover. Just how long you spend off of work depends on the nature of your job. For example, if you have a job that requires physical labor, you may have to spend more time recovering before you can get back to work. It’s possible that you may have to change how you do your job while you recover, whether that means working from home, or different hours. You may even have to switch jobs, at least while you recover. Your doctor will make a recommendation for when you will be able to go back to work, and if your job is suitable for someone who has had a heart attack.
It’s very common to feel depressed after a heart attack. For many, recovering from a heart attack mentally can take as long as it does physically. You may feel anxious about the future, and the possibility of another heart attack. On top of that, the financial burden of being out of work can add to that anxiety. It’s common for people who have had a heart attack to feel helpless while recovering, or frustrated at having to depend on others. These concerns are completely normal, but if it helps, discuss them with someone, be it friends, family, doctors or counselors. The added stress from these feelings wont help your recovery, and your health should be your top priority.
Complications of a Heart attack
Heart attack can cause complications. Some of these complications will resolve themselves, while others are long-term issues that can be controlled with medication.
Angina is a common complication after a heart attack. A heart attack may cause damage to your blood vessels. Damaged blood vessels can lead to angina, a type of chest pain caused by restricted blood flow to the heart.
Some people describe angina as an ache, or a burning sensation in their chest. Others describe it as a type of pressure, or a squeezing sensation on their heart. In reality, all of these descriptions can be accurate. The type of pain depends on which blood vessels are damaged and how severely. Therefor, you should let your doctor know about any pains you may be experiencing after a heart attack.
Another possible complication is arrhythmia, which is a type of abnormal heartbeat. When damage to the heart muscle occurs, the heart’s normal electrical activity can be disturbed. The result is a heartbeat that is too fast, too slow, or irregular.
Some types of arrhythmia are mild, and can be controlled with medications such as beta blockers. Others types of arrhythmia are more serious and may require other treatment, such as a pacemaker. However, not all types of arrhythmia will need to be treated.
Damage to the heart can also increase your risk for blood clots. An aneurysm occurs when scar tissue builds up in the heart, which can lead to clotting and low blood pressure. Blood thinners may be part of your treatment plan.
In general, your doctors will monitor and treat complications if they occur while you are at the hospital. After going home, it is up to you to follow your treatment plan and tell your doctor about any pain, concerns or questions you might have about treatment.
Lifestyle changes going forward
If you have already experienced a heart attack, then you may be at an increased risk of having a second one. However, you can reduce your risk of having a second heart attack by identifying your risk factors and making appropriate lifestyle changes.
If you are overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk of another heart attack by losing weight. Even losing as little as ten pounds can have a positive impact on your health and reduce your risk.
Regular exercise can also help reduce your risk for a heart attack, although you need to be careful; strenuous exercise can be especially dangerous for anyone who recently had a heart attack. Talk to your doctor about any changes you want to make to your exercise routine. Start with simple exercise like walking short distances. Ask your doctor before lifting weights, and be sure to stop if you feel weakness, shortness of breath, or chest pain.
For smokers, quitting smoking will also help to reduce the risk of a heart attack. Smoking can cause plaque buildup in your arteries, leading to heart disease. Quitting can help to reduce your risk of a heart attack by as much as 50%.
Returning to normal after a heart attack
While it can be a life-changing event, having a heart attack doesn’t mean you can’t live a normal life. By following a rehabilitation program and making healthy lifestyle changes, most people will be able to return to their normal daily activities. A heart attack can feel like a catastrophic event, but it can also be a positive turning point where you decide to put your health first for the future.