What to Expect After a Heart Attack
Both body and mind
The good news is that since the early 1950s cardiovascular death rates in Canada have dropped by more than 75 per cent, according to Statistics Canada, mostly because of improved surgical procedures, drug therapies and prevention efforts.
The bad news is that every seven minutes a Canadian still dies from heart disease or stroke.
If you or someone you love has recently suffered a heart attack there’s a lot to understand when moving forward and it can all feel quite overwhelming. Knowing the extent of damage after a heart attack is the first stop.
“If you have significant damage you’re at risk for congestive heart failure,” says Dr. Beth Abramson, a cardiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “The heart is a pump that moves blood through the body. When you have a heart attack the pump is damaged and weakened. The longer we wait to get to the hospital and ignore our symptoms the more likely the chance for major damage. Timing is so important.”
Fortunately, many heart attack sufferers survive with little, if any, damage to the heart.
“In this day and age, we now have the technology to treat heart attacks quickly and minimize heart muscle damage,” says Dr. Abramson, who also teaches at the University of Toronto and wrote the book Heart Health for Canadians. “Many of my patients have no significant effects on their body after a heart attack.”
As for the biggest misconception people have about life after a heart attack, Dr. Abramson says it’s that they think their lives are over.
“People sometimes think they’re going to have to quit their jobs, lose 100 pounds, stop drinking and eat a purely vegetarian diet. That’s just not realistic and it’s not sustainable.”
What they do have to do, she says, is make realistic and lasting lifestyle changes that include quitting smoking (a biggie), eating more healthily, perhaps losing some weight, reducing stress, limiting alcohol consumption and getting some form of exercise for a minimum of 50 minutes a week.
“No one has to put on spandex and go to a gym to be physically active,” she emphasizes. “Even just walking can be beneficial.”
And that goes for all of us – even those who haven’t had a heart attack, since we Boomers are at the age and stage where we’re at the greatest risk for one, points out Dr. Abramson.