Recovering from a heart attack and what you need to know.
Recovering from a heart attack may last several months if not longer, it is important not to rush your rehabilitation, take your time and listen to your doctors.
The recovery process usually occurs in phases, starting when you’re still hospitalized, where your state can be closely monitored and your individual needs for the future needs can be assessed.
When it’s safe to be discharged from hospital, you may continue your recovery at home.
The most important goals of the recovery process are:
- to gradually restore your physical activity so you can get back at normal activities (also known as cardiac rehabilitation)
- to reduce the risk of another heart attack
Your cardiac rehabilitation program will start while you’re still in the hospital.
A member of the cardiac rehabilitation team will provide all the detailed information about:
- Your condition of health and how the heart attack could have affected it.
- The type of treatment you will receive.
- What medications you will be taking and why.
- Go over risk factors and things that could have contributed to your heart attack.
- Changes you will make in your life to minimize the risk of a second heart attack.
Once you return home, it’s normal for the doctor to suggest that you take some time to rest and only perform small activities, such as walking up and down the stairs a few times a day or taking a short walk.
Slowly increase the amount of physical activity you do over several weeks.
Your rehabilitation programme should consist of a range of different exercises (Exercise after heart attack).
Most of the exercises will be aerobic because these exercises are designed to strengthen your heart, improve blood circulation and lower blood pressure (blood pressure must be held low after heart attack in order to prevent remodelling changes in the heart muscle due to pressure).
Examples of aerobic activities can be combine riding a bike, jogging on a treadmill and swimming.
According to the British Heart Foundation, you should be able to start having sex again once you feel ready and good enough, approximately 4 to 6 weeks after having a heart attack and you dont have to worry, having sex does not put you at risk of having another heart attack.
After a heart attack, some men might experience erectile dysfunction, which can make having sex challenging. This is most commonly because of anxiety and the emotional stress linked with having a heart attack. Less commonly, erectile dysfunction is also a side effect of a heart medicine called beta blockers and in that case you should talk with your doctor about reconsidering a modification of treatment. For example, your doctor may put you under a medication such as sildenafil which stimulates the blood flow to the cavernous body of penis and it makes it easier to get an erection.
List of drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction
Many people can start driving again one week after having a heart attack, as long you do not have any other complication that would limit your driving skills.
However, in more severe cases, it is recommended to stop driving for a month.
Follow your state and federal rules and inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (according to your country) if you have a heart attack.
Having a heart attack can be terrifying and traumatic, and it’s normal to have feelings of anxiety in the aftermath.
For lots of people, the emotional stresses can lead them to feel depressed and tearful for a few weeks, particularly after returning home from the hospital.
If feelings of depression continue, speak to your family doctor, because you might have a more severe form of depression.
It’s essential to ask for advice as serious types of depression commonly do not improve without treatment.
Additionally, your emotional state could also have a negative effect on your physical recovery.
Reducing your risk:
Making lifestyle changes and taking different medicines long term are the two important ways or reducing the risk of having another heart attack.
Currently, there are 4 types of medicines commonly used to reduce the risk of another heart attack:
ACE inhibitors are used to treat high blood pressure because they block the actions of some of the hormones that help regulate blood vessels, volume and pressure.
By inhibiting these hormones from binding with their receptors or converting, the medicine helps to decrease the amount of water in your blood and also widens your arteries, both of which will lower your blood pressure.
ACE inhibitors does reduce the supply of blood to the kidneys, which can reduce their efficiency in clearance of urine. This means that blood and urine tests will be performed in advance, before you start taking ACE inhibitors to make sure there are no pre-existing diseases with your kidneys.
Afterwards, yearly blood and urine tests may be needed, if you continue to take ACE inhibitors.
The side effects of ACE inhibitors can include dizziness, weakness, headaches and sometimes a persistent, dry cough.
Most of these should pass after a few days of treatment, however some people may continue to have a dry cough.
ACE inhibitors can cause possible side effects if taken with other medicines, including over-the-counter medicines. Always check with your family doctor or pharmacist before taking any other medicines if already taking an ACE inhibitor.
It’s suggested that you start taking ACE inhibitors immediately after having a heart attack.
Some people cannot take ACE inhibitors and in this case it can be replaced with a related medicine called an angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB) as an alternative.
Antiplatelets helps prevent blood clots by reducing the “stickiness” of platelets, which are tiny particles in the blood that make them clot.
It’s usually recommended that you take low-dose aspirin, which has blood-thinning qualities.
You’re more likely to be prescribed additional antiplatelet medicines, such as clopidogrel, prasugrel or ticagrelor, especially if you have gone under a placement of stent procedure. These are also useful if you’re allergic to aspirin.
Side effects of antiplatelets consist of diarrhoea, bruising and/or bleeding, breathlessness, stomach pain, digestion troubles and heartburn.
Similarly to ACE inhibitors, treatment with antiplatelets usually is started immediately after a heart attack and the period of time it should be continued is determined by your cardiologist, depending on your heart condition, the type of heart attack and the treatment you received. Regarding aspirin, it’s usually recommended that you take low-dose aspirin indefinitely.
Also, do not stop taking aspirin abruptly, as this might increase your risk of another heart attack.
You might occasionally also be given another blood-thinning medicine called warfarin, for which it is required to have periodic INR tests, in order to monitor its anti coagulation effect and to prevent excessive bleeding, which is the most serious side effect of warfarin.
This usually only occurs if you are diagnosed with an irregular heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation) or sustained severe damage to your heart muscle.
Ask for immediate medical care and have an urgent blood test if you experience passing blood in your pee or poo, passing black poo (indicating for stomach poo), severe bruising, nose bleeding that last longer than 10 minutes, blood in your vomit, coughing up blood, unusual headaches, heavy or increased bleeding during your period or any other bleeding from the vagina
You must also seek immediate medical care if you:
- are involved in an accident
- experience a significant hit to the head
- cannot stop any bleeding
Beta blockers are a type of medicine used to protect the heart from further damage after a heart attack by relaxing the heart’s muscles so the heart beats decrease and blood pressure drops, both of which will reduce the strain on your heart muscle.
It’s usually recommended that you begin treatment with beta blockers as soon as your condition normalizes.
Common side effects of beta blockers include weakness or generally feeling tired, cold hands and feet, a slow heartbeat, diarrhoea or feeling sick.
Less common side effects include troublesome sleeping or nightmares, inability to maintain an erection or impotence.
Beta blockers can also interfere with other medicines, causing unpredictable adverse side effects.
Check with your family doctor or pharmacist before taking any other medicines, including over-the-counter medicine, while you’re taking with beta blockers.
Statins are the category of medicine used to reduce the levels of blood cholesterol, which helps to prevent further damage to your coronary arteries and reduces the risk of another heart attack.
Statins block the actions of an enzyme in your liver called HMG-CoA reductase that is used to make cholesterol (LDL). Statins lower the level of total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL and raise the level of HDL (known as the good cholesterol).
Statins occasionally might have mild side effects, including constipation, diarrhoea, headaches or abdominal pain.
Sometimes, statins may cause muscle pain, weakness and tenderness.
Seek for advice from your family doctor, if you have any of these symptoms because your dosage might need to be modified.
Your Family and friends may be a great support during your rehabilitation, until you get back on your feet again. Be patient and remember that everyone has their own pace of recovery.
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