You Had a Heart Attack—Now What?


You Had a Heart Attack—Now What?

Anxiety and fear are common feelings people have immediately after a heart attack or event. Will my life be changed forever? Will I be able to enjoy the same things I did before my heart attack?

Dr. Jerome Schutzman, Cardiologist for the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute, says, “After a heart event not only does the person affected have concerns about what this means going forward, the whole family does as well. So we educate the entire family about lifestyle and what they can and can’t do.”

Recovery After a Heart Attack

Recovery after a heart attack will be different for everyone. The extent of heart damage and your overall health will play a role in your recovery.

Immediately after the event, give your heart time to heal. Your doctor will talk to you about when you can be active again and will enroll you in a cardiac rehab program. The first phase of cardiac rehab usually starts when you are still in the hospital. It is important you receive education early and set goals for your recovery.

Once you are out of the hospital, cardiac rehab will come in phases as you gain strength. In cardiac rehab you will learn:

  • Exercises
  • Nutrition
  • Stress management
  • Medication education

Dr. Schutzman says, “It is important to listen to your doctor and your cardiac rehab therapist. But typically, patients are more conservative then than we want them to be. After the initial recovery, we don’t want you lying in bed resting all day.”

Lifestyle Changes After a Heart Attack

After a heart attack, the number one thing you can do is modify the lifestyle factors that put you at risk for a heart event. Lifestyle risk factors you will need to modify, include:

  • Smoking – If you smoke, quit immediately. Smoking cessation classes can help teach you coping skills to kick the habit of tobacco.
  • Exercise – Regular aerobic exercise can make your heart stronger and help you maintain a healthy weight. Walking 20 minutes every day can help you lower your risk of a heart attack;, it will also help relieve stress.
  • Healthy diet – A heart-healthy diet can lower your risk of a second heart event. Eat foods low in cholesterol and fats, eat more fruits and vegetables and less red meat and dairy. It is also important to avoid fried or processed foods and salt.
  • Lose weight – If you are overweight, maintaining a healthy weight will help you lower your risk of a second heart event. Adding exercise and a healthy diet to your new lifestyle will help with weight loss.
  • Control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels – Exercise and diet may help control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels but many people need to take medication. Following your doctor’s orders for all medicines is important.

“Family and friends are an important part of changing your lifestyle after a heart event,” says Dr. Schutzman. “You will need encouragement and motivation as you make changes. Many people will also have some depression or anxiety about a second event, so family support is essential.”

St. Elizabeth offers “Take Time for Your Heart,” an 8-week course to help improve your heart health. The class series is available in Florence and Edgewood. Cost is $50. Seating is limited and registration is required. For more information on the next session or to register, visit or call (859) 301-WELL (9355).