Navigating the Road to Recovery After a Heart Attack
Every year, about 720,000 people in the United States have their first heart attack. This life-changing event impacts both the heart attack survivor and his/her family in many ways.
Recovery depends on how severe the heart attack was and what damage it caused. Generally, it takes about two months for a person’s heart to heal after a heart attack.
While recovery can be challenging and test the patience of all concerned, the good news is it is doable. And some patients end up leading a healthier life than they did before their heart attack.
The road to recovery may look a little different for everyone, but ultimately involves key lifestyle changes to prevent future heart attack and improve heart health.
Health Strategies and Lifestyle Changes
Understand medications. The person who suffered a heart attack may be prescribed a host of new medications that can be difficult to keep track of. Make sure that individual and a family member learn what the medications are, their purpose, how to take them and what side effects to watch for.
Be sure to take medications as directed. Just because the person recovering feels better doesn’t mean he/she can stop taking prescribed medication. In addition, learn what over-the-counter medications and supplements are OK to take or what to avoid.
Eliminate tobacco use of every kind. One of the most important steps for any person’s overall health is to quit smoking. Other tobacco use is also off-limits. Doctors can suggest a plan to quit and recommend other programs or resources that can help.
Follow a heart-healthy diet. This means limiting saturated and trans fats, sodium, added sugars and red meat. Diets should include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, skinless poultry, fish, beans, nuts and non-tropical oils. A dietitian can create a more heart-healthy plan for the person recovering.
Commit to cardiac rehabilitation. Recovery may include cardiac rehabilitation, a medically supervised exercise program to help with recovery. Many hospitals or heart centers offer cardiac rehabilitation. This is an essential part of recovery that has been shown to lower mortality in people who have suffered heart attacks. In addition to participating in an exercise program, a cardiac rehabilitation program teaches about heart disease and how to manage it.
Exercise for life. After cardiac rehabilitation, it’s important to follow a maintenance plan of staying physically active. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week unless a doctor says otherwise.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases risk for another heart attack. Follow a diet and exercise plan to lose weight (if needed) and weigh in frequently so it’s easier to keep weight in check.
Monitor and control blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and stress. These are all contributors to heart disease. Medication, diet, exercise and stress management techniques are essential for a healthier heart.
Seek support. A heart attack often affects more than the heart. Many people also experience depression, fear, anxiety and even anger. These are normal reactions, but these emotions can affect overall recovery as well as relationships with family and friends. Getting back to previous social activities and hobbies can help the person recovering feel in control and like himself/herself again. If depressed feelings linger or worsen, talk with a doctor or mental health specialist.
Keep all follow-up appointments. It’s important to continue working closely with a doctor after the person affected goes home. His/her condition can change over time and medications may need to be adjusted. Come to the doctor prepared with questions. Take note of any side effects that are being experienced, pain or other symptoms that are concerning. And follow the doctor’s recommendations.
Extra Care for Recovery
When recovery from a heart attack requires extra care, McKnight Place Skilled Nursing can help. Our community is for seniors who have health conditions that require the highest level of care outside of a hospital setting.
Through exceptional, 24-hour care, we build a close relationship with residents and their families for complete peace of mind. Medication administration and skilled care are provided by licensed nursing professionals around the clock and our board certified geriatric medical director is always on call. McKnight Place also offers on-site physical, occupational, speech, language and restorative therapy.