Cardiac Arrest & Heart Attack

What is a Heart Attack?

Heart attacks can vary in severity, with some survivors suffering only minor, short-term complications while others experience long-term effects. Regardless of the severity of your heart attack, you should treat it as a warning sign and take steps to reduce your risk for heart disease and future heart attacks. Talking to your doctor about making changes to your lifestyle, diet, exercise, and medications after your heart attack will help with this phase of your recovery. Together, you can design a plan that will help you safely get back to the activities you love while also enhancing your health for the future.  

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What Happens to Your Heart During a Heart Attack?

Learn About Cardiac Arrest

How Does a Heart Attack Occur?
A heart attack occurs when plaque — a buildup of fatty deposits, cholesterol and calcium — causes the arteries supplying blood to the heart to narrow and possibly become blocked. When blood clots at the narrowed site, the heart does not get the oxygen and nutrients it needs, and you experience a heart attack. As a result, your heart muscle is injured and a portion dies.
What are the Long-Term Effects?
You may experience long-term effects of a heart attack, including heart rhythm issues and damage that can impact your heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body. You will also have an increased risk for health issues like an additional heart attack, kidney problems, peripheral artery disease and stroke. The faster doctors intervene during your heart attack, the greater the potential for your heart to recover.
How is the Recovery Process?
As you recover following your heart attack, you and your doctor will want to focus on strategies to improve the health of your arteries and optimize the function of the uninjured cardiac muscle. Specifically, you will want to recover as much of a normal cardiac output — or the amount of blood your heart is capable of pumping in one minute — as possible. Recovery from a heart attack can include inpatient hospital care, outpatient cardiac rehabilitation and outpatient medical care, and recovery can take a few weeks to several months. You are considered to be fully recovered from a heart attack if you are able to resume all your regular activities. 

Strategies for Recovery After Having a Heart Attack

To reduce your risk for an additional heart attack, reduce your chance of death from heart disease and increase your activity level and your ability to exercise, you may need a spectrum of interventions. In addition to the medical treatments you may need, including heart medication and/or surgery to improve the health of your heart, you will also want to slowly incorporate physician-approved physical activity approved by your doctor into your daily life.

This is a goal that you can work on during cardiac rehabilitation. As your cardiac output improves, the better your tolerance will be to exercise, generally speaking. After a heart attack, you will need to make some changes to your lifestyle to stay as healthy as possible. In addition to exercise, you will need to work toward making these goals:

  • If you smoke or use tobacco, take steps to quit. Ask a loved one to hold you accountable as you work to achieve this goal. Your doctor can provide materials and recommend counseling that can help. 
  • Say no to stress. Make relaxation a priority and set aside time every day to do something that helps you unwind.  
  • Work with a dietitian to design a meal plan that is heart-healthy and enticing. You will want to incorporate more fresh produce, lean sources of protein, healthy fats and whole grains into your diet.  

By following your doctor’s advice for your new lifestyle, taking medications as prescribed and participating in cardiac rehabilitation, you will be well on your way on the road to recovery.