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Life after a heart attack

What I can do to get my heart healthy again!

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, approximately 800,000 people have heart attacks. That translates to a heart attack occurring every 39 seconds! That’s not a statistic intended to scare anyone. It’s merely a fact that helps illustrate how prevalent cardiac disease is in the United States.

Although proper diet, exercise, and routine medical exams can reduce the odds of a heart attack, myocardial infarction still happens. About ⅓ of people experiencing a heart attack will have a second heart attack in their lifetime.

What causes heart attacks?

Besides genetics, five primary contributing factors increase the odds of a heart attack.

Diabetes

Diabetes affects almost every part of your body. Usually, diabetes is accompanied by multiple health risks like weight and poor diet. That said, diabetes affects the glucose levels in your blood. High glucose levels can damage blood vessels and nerves that control your heart. 

Obesity

Obesity is a common problem in the United States and weight is linked to several factors that increase the chances of heart attacks, such as high blood lipids (triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol), metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and diabetes. American diets are generally are high-calorie and rich in fats, therefore contributing to weight problems.

Diet

Fast food and other pre-made “convenience” foods are high in saturated fats, sodium, sugar, and calories! All these unhealthy ingredients help make the food taste better. 

Lifestyle- alcohol, and smoking

An alcoholic Cardiomyopathy is a form of heart disease caused by excessive alcohol use. Long-term alcohol abuse can weaken and thin the heart muscle and affect how efficiently our hearts pump blood. The more your heart has to work to pump blood through your body, the higher your risk of it wearing out and resulting in a heart attack. Smoking accounts for 20% of deaths from heart disease and is linked to coronary disease and strokes.

Inactivity

Americans spend the majority of their awake time sitting. Physical inactivity, or sedentary lifestyles, reduces muscle mass and can influence their metabolism. Studies show that regular physical activity can greatly reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Approximately 35% of heart attacks are attributed to sedentary lifestyles.

What is a heart attack?

The medical term for a heart attack is myocardial infarction, resulting from blockage of oxygen-rich blood to the cardiac muscles (your heart). The heart is a muscle that works constantly. The heart requires a constant flow of oxygen. So, when the blood supply stops, the heart muscles cannot operate properly. Without blood flow, that deprived section of the heart muscle can die. The most common blockage is plaque (or atherosclerosis) in your blood and arteries. Plaque is a mixture of fat, calcium, cholesterol, and waste materials from your cells. This plaque travels through your circulatory system and adheres to parts of your arteries. Over time, you may experience a blockage.

What can I do to help reduce the chance of a second heart attack?

There are several ways a person can help reduce the chances of a second heart attack. In many scenarios, people have a new leaf on life and are highly motivated to change every unhealthy aspect of their lives. Here are some recommendations to incorporate after you have a heart attack. 

Before you engage in any changes to your routine, check with your Cardiologist and Primary Care physician.

Here are the top seven paths to a healthier heart.

Follow the advice of your doctors.

Your Primary Care doctor will work with your Cardiologist to outline a cardiac rehabilitation program. Following their care plan is the best action you can take to reduce your chances of a second heart attack. Be candid with your doctor and express any concerns or struggles you may be having. Your physician and care team is there to support you. Ask questions about your treatment program. Offer alternatives if you think some of their suggestions may be too challenging at this time. Your treatment team is YOUR TEAM.

Take your medications

There are several highly-effective medications available to patients with cardiac disease. Your doctor can help you find the medication that works best for you. However, medications can only work when they are taken as prescribed. At think, our physicians work with our clinical pharmacists who have a deep knowledge of how medications work with our bodies. And, they may recommend certain times to take medications because they are more effective or what foods to avoid because substances in the foods may counteract the benefits of the medications.

Change your diet

Changing diet is challenging–but necessary. Usually, patients that experience a heart attack have poor diets. Diets are created from years of unhealthy eating habits. Your cardiologist and Primary Care physician can help you create a plan to change your eating habits. It may take time to become accustomed to new eating habits, but it can happen! Be patient with yourself, and be sure to celebrate every positive change you make with your diet.

Stop smoking and reduce or quit drinking.

Smoking and alcohol consumption are leading causes of heart attacks. If you are a smoker, ask your physician about smoking cessation courses. Smoking and alcohol consumption are habits that become entrenched in every aspect of our lives. These habits (or addictions) can be difficult to change without guidance from professionals like your doctor or therapist.

Think has in-house behavioral health professionals that can help you work through any addictions you may have with nicotine and alcohol. 

Get some activity in your life.

Don’t expect to run a marathon right after a heart attack, but becoming more active is essential to your recovery. Some easy ways to become more active are: speak with your doctor about exercises or safe activities you can incorporate into the recovery program to help you shift from a passive to an active lifestyle.

  • Get up during commercials and do mini chores like taking out the trash or putting away a load of laundry.
  • Park farther away from a store entrance to log a few more steps.
  • Join a walking club.
  • Take your dog for a walk.
  • Purchase an electric bike and take advantage of the paved bike trails around the city.

Practice stress management

For most, we manage stress through coping mechanisms (or skills). However, for some, coping mechanisms can consist of unhealthy behaviors. Stress is a key trigger to heart patients relapsing to old unhealthy behaviors. In addition, stress can lead to blood pressure issues and can negatively impact your physical (and mental) health. You can manage stress in many ways; however, we find these to have the most impact:

  • Regular sleep
  • Finding a hobby or social outlet
  • Be active and exercise
  • Practice yoga or other meditative practices like Tai Chi
  • Maintain a positive attitude

Become more attuned to your body and warning signs. 

As mentioned, approximately 20% of individuals may experience a second heart attack. It’s important to start paying closer attention to your body and if you ever feel “off” or are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

  • Chest pain (angina).
  • Tightness or pressure in your arms, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness, weakness, or fainting.
  • Pale, sweaty skin.
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Swelling or pain in your legs.
  • Sudden fatigue

Final thoughts

So many heart attacks can be avoided. WIth routine physical exams and a willingness to change some behaviors, people can live a prosperous and healthy life. If you feel great, it’s time to see your Primary Care physician–especially if you haven’t seen them in a while. If you are feeling under the weather or have a family history of heart disease, schedule an appointment to see your doctor today. We want you to be around and healthy for many years to come!

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