How should I handle my emotional ups and downs?
In the flurry of information you received after your heart attack, you or your doctor may have overlooked the emotional aspects of your illness.
It’s normal and expected to experience a wide range of emotions. Perhaps you’re afraid, depressed, scared, angry, or confused. The important thing is to recognize, understand, and manage your emotions so that they don’t negatively impact your recovery and increase your risk of a second heart attack. Talk to your doctor and/or a mental health care provider about your feelings so they can get you back on track.
What heart disease risk factors can I control?
Obviously, some risk factors for heart disease are beyond your control, like your family history and your personal health history. But many other risk factors can be modified.
At the top of this list is control of your diabetes. This means that besides monitoring your blood sugar and taking any prescribed medications correctly, you follow the right diet, says Ann Feldman, MS, RD, a nutrition and diabetes educator at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. “I recommend [that people see] a registered dietitian who is a diabetes expert,” she says, “because a lot of times they don’t address things such as carb counting in a typical office.”
Feldman adds that it’s important to control not just your blood sugar levels but also your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Addressing these risk factors, she says, may require both dietary changes and medications. And if you smoke, it’s also vital to get the help you need to quit.
What kinds of exercise should I be doing?
No matter what your other risk factors are, it’s important to stay active. Exercise is a key ingredient, says Feldman, who urges people with diabetes to engage in both resistance and aerobic activities.
Eimer agrees, noting that studies have shown that aerobic exercise in particular helps lower the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes. But resistance training is also important, he says, “with regard to bone strength and overall mortality.”
While any step you can take to reduce feelings of stress — such as yoga or meditation — is likely to be good for your heart, “exercise is also a great stress reliever,” Eimer adds. “It helps patients cope mentally and physically with difficult times.”
How important is weight control when it comes to my heart disease risk?
While maintaining a healthy body weight is a worthy goal, it may be counterproductive to focus too much on your weight, Eimer says.
“Just looking at weight can be problematic. Distribution [of body fat] is probably more important,” he notes. “And even more important than that, I think, is fitness.”
While following a healthy diet and getting enough exercise may help you lose weight, the effects of these habits on your blood pressure and lipid levels may be more important when it comes to your heart disease risk. In fact, Eimer says, it’s not clear that body weight is even an independent factor for risk of heart attack or dying from heart disease.
What kind of discomfort is a warning sign and shouldn’t be ignored?
Given that you’ve already experienced a heart attack, you’re probably more aware of the symptoms and warning signs. Nevertheless, you should call 911 or visit the hospital emergency room right away if you experience any of the following:
- discomfort in your chest, one or both arms, back, neck, or jaw
- shortness of breath
- cold sweats
When should I return to work?
Depending on the severity of your heart attack and the nature of your job duties, your doctor may allow you to resume your normal work routine anywhere from two weeks to three months later.
By adhering to strict recovery regime, you can — and should — return to your normal routine before you know it.
Should I say goodbye to sex?
You’re probably wondering how your heart attack will impact your sex life, or if you can ever have sex again at all. According to the American Heart Association, most people can continue their same pattern of sexual activity a few weeks after recovery.
Don’t be shy about starting a conversation with your doctor to figure out when it’s safe for you.
What health markers should I monitor?
Keep an eye on your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and your BMI. If you have diabetes, make sure to adhere to your medications and monitor your blood sugar levels closely. Keeping those numbers within a healthy range can greatly improve your heart health and reduce your risk for heart disease and a second heart attack.
You can still do many of the same things you did before your heart attack now that you’re in recovery. But you may also need to make some changes to your diet, exercise routine, and smoking habits. Discussing your concerns with your doctor can help you understand your limits and ultimately get you back on track in no time.
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