Once you’ve had a heart attack, your chance of having another is higher. A heart attack weakens the heart, making it more susceptible to problems caused by plaques and blockages.
The good news is lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of having a second heart attack. Kelly Jonas, a Marshfield Clinic Health System cardiology nurse practitioner, recommends patients who have had heart attacks take these steps to prevent future cardiac events.
1. Take medication as directed.
If you’ve had a heart attack, you will head home from the hospital with cardiac medications. Some may be temporary, but you may need to take medications for the rest of your life.
Medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and antiplatelet agents combined with baby aspirin to prevent clots often are prescribed after a heart attack. These medications improve health conditions that make heart attacks more likely. You should take them even if you feel good and your blood pressure and cholesterol are under control.
Second heart attacks in the first year are more common in people who don’t follow through with their medications,” Jonas said.
2. Go to cardiac rehab.
Cardiac rehab helps get your heart back in shape for regular physical activity and exercise after a cardiac event. Stick with your program so you can safely exercise and strengthen your heart to prevent a second heart attack.
3. Keep chronic health conditions under control.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol and uncontrolled diabetes put stress on the heart and make a second heart attack more likely. Keep these conditions under control with medications, a healthy diet and exercise.
Aim for LDL cholesterol of 70 or lower and blood pressure of 120/80 if you’ve had a heart attack.
4. Eat a heart-healthy diet.
Foods low in saturated and trans fat are especially important if you’ve had a heart attack. Eat fewer fried foods, cookies, donuts and packaged snacks to help control your cholesterol and diabetes.
5. Exercise regularly.
Between 30 and 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five times a week is recommended after your doctor clears you for physical activity. Staying active strengthens your heart so a second heart attack is less likely.
6. Get a flu shot.
Respiratory infections can affect your heart rate and blood pressure, which puts stress on your heart. Get the flu shot every year, and ask your health care provider if you need the pneumococcal vaccine.
7. Attend all your medical appointments.
Your cardiologist will monitor how your heart function is improving after a heart attack and adjust your medications as needed. Seeing your primary care provider also is important to screen for respiratory illnesses and depression that are hard on the heart.
Know the signs of a heart attack
“Most patients are very aware of the symptoms they had with their first heart attack, so stay alert for similar symptoms,” Jonas said.
Contact your health care provider immediately if you notice any of these possible heart attack symptoms:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweats