Heart Attack Rehabilitation
Recovery After Heart Attacks: What To Expect

Rehab after a heart attack

Returning to health after a heart attack

Heart Attack Rehabilitation


How Long Does Recovery Take?
What Are The Risks After A Heart Attack?
How Will I Feel After A Heart Attack?
How Can I Help Myself?

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Heart Attacks in Women

How Long Does Recovery Take?

Most people are able to return to their regular routine within 12 weeks of having a heart attack. This is the time it takes the damaged heart muscle to turn into scar tissue. There are other factors which affect recovery time, including the severity of the heart attack (how much of the heart was damaged) and the age of the patient. By the time a person reaches the age of 65 her heart has done an astounding amount of work. The adult heart beats more than 100,000 times a day, pumps 2,000 gallons of blood through 60,000 miles of blood vessels every 24 hours. Even at 65 the heart still has many years of service capacity in it, but natural physiologic changes will lessen its ability to work efficiently and recover when illness strikes. Heart attack victims are usually recommended cardiac rehabilitation, a program which takes them through the recovery process step by step. Most programs are run in the hospitals or buildings nearby.

What Are The Risks After A Heart Attack?

The biggest risk is another heart attack - about 10 percent of those who have a heart attack experience another one within a year. Proper rehabilitation, including making changes to reduce your risks of a heart attack, can increase your life expectancy. If you are not offered rehabilitation ask your medical team if there is one available for you to join. Damage to the heart muscle after a heart attack is also one of the causes of heart failure.

How Will I Feel After A Heart Attack?

Having a heart attack is a terrifying experience, it can turn your world up-side-down and suddenly we become very aware of our own mortality. Initially you are likely to feel weak, fatigued and possibly short of breath. If you had heart attack treatment involving surgery such as coronary angioplasty or heart bypass surgery, you may feel this more severely. Other feelings you may have include:

It is normal to feel angry or fearful after a heart attack, even if you are normally an easy-going personality. You may even feel depressed (one third of heart attack or heart surgery patients do). Although depression may not strike straight away, it can do when events sink in, if you feel life will never be the same again or if you feel the recovery process is taking too long. Signs of depression include:

• Frequently crying
• Feeling hopeless or worthless.
• Little appetite or increased appetite.
• Sleeping too much or not enough.
• Feeling anxious, agitated and restless.

If you experience the effects of depression for longer than 4 weeks, talk to your doctor about evaluation for possible depression treatment. They may prescribe anti-depressants until you have worked your way through the recovery process. Most of all, try to be patient with yourself and pace your recovery. For example, instead of aiming to hike a hill within 12 weeks, set yourself realistic targets of walking a little every day until it becomes easier. One recent study showed that women who joined a womens-only cardiac rehab programs had much fewer instances of depression than those who attended standard programs. Historically women have had poor attendance in standard programs. These female only programs tend to offer more individualized care and participants are not pushed if they do not want to to immediately introduce all the lifestyle changes doctors typically list off. This is because researchers found that patients become easily overwhelmed if they need to change all their habits at once, such as quitting smoking, healthy eating and exercising.

Loss Of Mental Sharpness
A heart attack is a major event which can stress the entire body, including the brain. You may initially find that you are not as mentally sharp as you used to be, but you should recover within a few weeks. Although bypass surgery has been connected with cognitive decline, recent research calls this conclusion into question. If you find that your mental capacities do not return after 4 weeks, talk to your doctor about suggestions. For example, if you are taking beta blockers, heart medications which can decrease mental capacity, your doctor may suggest an alternative drug.

Sleeping Difficulties
Sleeping problems are common occurrences in recovering heart attack patients. This may be because of anxiety and stress or a change in routine. As getting enough sleep can speed up the recovery process it is worth taking this seriously. Avoid drinking caffeine several hours before going to bed and take time before going to bed to properly relax, by for example listening to some relaxing music. If you have a bad night's sleep avoid napping too much the next day as this will make it more difficult to sleep that night. If you continue to have problems, discuss possible options with your doctor.

Limited Physical Activity
Initially you may find just getting out of bed and showering exhausting. As the first week passes, you should begin walking 5 minutes, 5 times a day. Although this may not seem much, it is sufficient to gradually rebuild your activity level. If your doctor has recommended rehab you will be set a personal cardiac rehab exercise program, where initially your activities will be monitored by medical personnel. Most people find this reassuring. Eventually you can progress to a home cardiac exercise program to continue your recovery in the months ahead.

How Can I Help Myself?

The best way to help yourself is to immediately integrate heart attack prevention and coronary heart disease prevention steps into your life. Do this gradually, if you feel overwhelmed by the changes you need to make, make them one at time over a period of weeks or months. Possible changes include:

1. Quitting smoking - this reduces your risk of a repeat heart attack in half.
2. Start eating a healthy diet.
3. Gradually introduce exercise into your life.
4. Keep your weight in the healthy body mass index (BMI) area for your height.
5. Have your blood pressure checked regularly.
6. Learn to deal with anger and stress because it can trigger an attack. Read about the dangers of stress.
7. If your doctor has recommended drug treatments, be sure to take them. They may reduce your risk of another heart attack by up to 25 percent. Common medications include daily aspirin therapy, cholesterol drugs, ACE inhibitors and drugs to treat cardiac arrhythmias.

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For more heart stuff, see the following:

Silent Heart Attack
Causes of Heart Attacks
Heart Attack Questions

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