8 tips for your heart health journey: A guide for heart attack survivors
A heart attack is an overwhelming experience — and that may be especially true when you’ve never had one before. If you’re one of the tens of thousands of Canadians who experience their first heart attack in a typical year,1 it’s bound to be a time of confusion, with one question on your mind: What am I supposed to do next?
The answer, says cardiologist Dr. Beth Abramson, is you prepare for a journey back to good heart health.
Making a plan is one of the first steps on the road to better heart health.
“It's absolutely paramount that you have a plan and understanding of your journey so you can see where you are and where you're going,” Dr. Abramson says. “Having a definite plan of next steps and an idea of what to expect is truly important.”
If you’re recovering from a recent heart attack, your doctors and other health professionals may be able to assist you in your path to recovery. Here are some things they may tell you to expect, and advice they may give, during the first year of your journey back to heart health.
1. Be ready for an emotionally tough time
Know that it’s common — not to mention understandable — to feel overwhelmed or depressed2 as you recover. (And your family may feel down as well.)
“Some of those issues are dealt with by working through this and talking to healthcare providers, friends and family, and some people need additional support for mood related issues,” says Dr. Abramson. Healthcare professionals should be able to connect you to professional support if you need it.
2. Rest first, but be ready to get more active
Getting enough rest is important, and you may find that you get tired more easily. All the same, you may be encouraged to start being active physically and socially again when you’re feeling up to it again.3
3. Plan a healthier diet
When it comes to a heart healthy diet, your doctor or other healthcare professional may give you advice that includes:4,5
- Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Choosing whole-grain foods that are high in fibre
- Choosing non-animal sources of protein
- Making water your drink of choice
- Avoiding processed foods
For some, an altered diet could take a lot of getting used to. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a dietician for help, and there are other ways to connect with their services.6
4. Find support in others
Getting together with others who may share some of your experiences can help you come to grips with the changes in your life. Getting active together may be even better, says heart attack survivor Patricia van den Ende.
5. Keep up with medical appointments
And arrive prepared to ask questions. “Living with heart disease is complicated,” Dr. Abramson says. “You need to know which questions to ask to make sure your journey is healthy and productive as a patient.”
6. Know the symptoms
Every survivor of a cardiac event wants to avoid a repeat. But just in case, it’s helpful to be familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack in case you have another. Call 911 if you experience7 pain, pressure, aching or tightness in the centre of your chest. And note that women are especially likely to experience the following symptoms:8
- Pain or discomfort that radiates into shoulders, neck, back, or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness or sweating
7. If you smoke, it’s time to quit
Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but if you’ve suffered a cardiac event, it’s time to finally achieve it. Butting out can cut your risk of a second heart attack by half.9
8. Organize your medication10
Keep track of medications and set reminders for upcoming medical appointments.
The journey back to heart health can take you on a winding path, but thankfully there are milestones to motivate you, and resources to help.
“I think when people start living with heart disease they understand how serious it can be,” says Dr. Abramson.
- https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/heart-disease-canada-fact-sheet.html — see section “Who has heart disease in Canada?”