After a Heart Attack

If you've had a heart attack, you're probably wondering how your life is going to change.

It depends on how severe your heart attack was, how it was treated, and lifestyle changes that you make. In many ways, it's up to you! Your life can be even healthier and more active than before. Work with your healthcare provider on a plan.

Recovering and preventing future problems

The first step is to work with your healthcare provider to find the cause of your heart attack. This may have been done while you were in the hospital. You will have likely had various tests of your heart and blood to find out what risk factors caused the heart attack. These tests might have included electrocardiograms, echocardiogram, stress test, coronary catheterization and angiogram, and numerous blood tests. Talk with your provider about ways to reduce the risk for another heart attack.

Man and woman walking in park.
Exercise is the best medicine for your body. Work with your healthcare provider to set up a program that works for you.

After a first heart attack, the risk of another heart attack increases. But that doesn't mean that a second heart attack has to happen. There are many strategies you and your provider can use to make your life healthy:

  • Stop smoking.

  • Change your diet.

  • Become more physically active and lose weight, if needed.

  • Control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes if you have these conditions. 

  • Undergo angioplasty or surgery.

  • Take your medicine.

  • Maintain regular follow-up with your healthcare provider. 

  • Limit alcohol and the use of illegal drugs.

  • Manage your stress.

Make healthy choices

How can you move toward a healthier lifestyle?

  • Stop smoking. If you smoke, ask your provider about programs and treatments that can help you stop.

  • Exercise every day. Exercise strengthens your heart muscle so it can pump blood more easily and strengthens other muscles so the heart doesn't have to work so hard. It can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, decrease stress, decrease your cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of dying from another heart attack. Focus on aerobic exercise for an average of 150 minutes a week. This can be done in 30- to 40-minute sessions over 4 to 5 days a week. Aerobic exercise—the type that raises your heart rate—can be as easy as a brisk, 30-minute walk. Start slowly and follow your provider's advice. Arthritis or other problems may make some exercises challenging. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be active. Again, your provider can help. If walking is too difficult or painful, try riding a stationary bike or swimming. 

  • Eat heart-healthy. Diet changes can help lower your cholesterol level, weight, and blood pressure. Don't eat foods with trans fat, high saturated fat, or high cholesterol. Shift to a leaner diet higher in fiber and lower in salt. That means more fruits and vegetables, and less dairy, butter, and red meat. Don't eat fried foods. Make good decisions when eating out. A dietitian or nutritionist can help.

  • Be active in bed. Don't be afraid of having sex after a heart attack. As with other activities, you may have to start slowly and gradually work into your normal habits. Most people are at higher risk of heart-related problems during sex in the first couple of weeks after a heart attack. However, this risk becomes very small by around 6 weeks after the heart attack. Some of the medicines you may take after a heart attack can affect your interest in sex or the ability to have an erection or orgasm. Talk with your provider about when you can start to have sex or if you think medicines may be causing problems. It's important to talk with your partner about your concerns as well. 

  • Take your medicines. You may be taking medicine for your heart, as well as for lowering cholesterol, controlling blood pressure, or for diabetes. Make sure you understand when and how to take your medicine, and take it correctly. Talk with your provider if the medicine causes problems for you. Don't change or stop taking medicine on your own.

  • Reduce stress. Stress can increase your blood pressure, increase your heart rate, and make your heart disease worse. If you are under stress from work or home, get advice on stress reduction techniques or see a counselor for suggestions on how you can reduce your stress or change your response to stressful situations.

  • Limit alcohol or illegal drugs. Alcohol and street drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine can raise your blood pressure and put stress on your heart. Alcohol can also increase blood sugar and triglyceride levels. Talk with your provider if you need help reducing or quitting these substances.

Cardiac rehab 

Cardiac rehabilitation programs aim to help people who have had heart attacks or other heart problems make the changes they need for a healthy lifestyle. In this program, health professionals will work with you to show you how to control your blood pressure, stop smoking, change your diet, and start exercising.

The goal of rehab is to form habits that will make and keep you healthy. If your provider hasn't talked with you about a cardiac rehab program, you should ask about it.

Recovering from a heart attack means changing your life in positive ways. The changes don't just reduce your risk and fear of another heart attack. They can also make life healthier and more fun.

Support from friends and family

Your family members can help you in your recovery.

For example, your partner can exercise with you and provide support and encouragement. Or they can join you in eating a healthy diet, encouraging you to complete a rehab program or quit smoking, and reminding you to take medicine.

Family members can also watch your mood. Depression is common after a heart attack. Those close to you should encourage you to get help and call the healthcare provider if they notice changes.

Sometimes family or friends can get in the way of your recovery. For instance, if a family member smokes or drinks alcohol, it may make it harder for you to stop. You might have to stay away from smokers or not allow smoking in your home. The same may be an issue if someone in your home uses alcohol or other recreational substances.

Talking with your friends and family can help identify concerns and areas for improvement. Support groups are available in many communities. Together, you can find a way to support a healthier lifestyle for you and your heart. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Kang MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.