like every other
This year about 660,000 people in the U.S. will have a
muscle, needs oxygen. When the blood flow that supplies
that oxygen is severely reduced or blocked completely, a
heart attack occurs — technically known as a “myocardial
infarction” or “MI.” This occurs about every 42 seconds to
someone in the United States.
first heart attack. About 85 percent of those who experience
a heart attack this year will survive. Many of them will be
forever changed in one way or another by the experience.
Given the seriousness of a heart attack, it’s expected that
survivors experience psychological effects. Depression is
common; fear and anxiety of another MI may also come into
play. At the same time, some may experience a new lease
on life, having ‘dodged a bullet.’ We’ll explore this topic in
detail later in this series. If you’re looking for support from
heart attack survivors or family caregivers, try visiting our
online Support Network for patients and families.
Recovery is usually determined by how severe the heart
attack is. In the simplest cases, only one coronary vessel is
blocked, and it is treated quickly so there’s minimal damage
to the heart muscle. “If the heart function is normal, those
patients can really be discharged from the hospital pretty
quickly,” said John Osborne, a cardiologist at State of the
Heart Cardiology in Dallas.
When there is more damage, either because the patient
doesn’t get to the hospital quickly enough or because there
are more arteries involved, it’s more complicated. “In these
cases, the patient will normally stay in the hospital longer
as we’re assessing heart function and identifying the right
medication to help heal the heart,” he said.
The most severe level occurs when the patient has
multiple blockages and needs bypass surgery. “In that case,
their hospitalization and recovery are going to be much more
complicated,” he said.
Once the emergency is over and the
survivor is discharged, treatment will
almost always involve medications
and lifestyle changes to slow the
progression of atherosclerosis and
reduce the risk of developing blood
clots. In most cases, cardiac rehab is
Lifestyle changes start with eliminating tobacco. “I
always tell patients, I don’t care whether you smoke it,
chew it, snort it, inject it, rub it on your skin or use it as a
colonic, the use of any kind of tobacco has to stop. That’s
mandatory,” Osborne said.
Choosing a heart-healthy diet is equally important.
The American Heart Association recommends a diet that
limits saturated and trans fats, sodium, added sugars and
red meat. A healthy eating plan should include fruits and
vegetables, whole-grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless
poultry, fish, legumes (dried beans and peas), non-tropical
vegetable oils and unsalted nuts and seeds.
It is important for MI survivors to complete inpatient and
Medication is an important part of post-MI treatment.
outpatient cardiac rehab. Cardiac rehab has been shown to
lower mortality in patients who have a heart attack. “I like to
get patients started right away,” Osborne said. “If they’re in
pretty good health, I really encourage them to start as soon as
possible. Patients who have bypass surgery will have to wait
a little bit longer. But usually I like to have them start within
the first couple of weeks after surgery.”
After rehab, being physically active most days of the
week is essential. If you need to lower your cholesterol or
blood pressure, aim for 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous
physical activity three to four times per week.
“Generally, anybody that comes in with a heart attack due to
atherosclerosis should get some kind of cholesterol-lowering
AFTER REHAB, BEING PHYSICALLY ACTIVE
MOST DAYS OF THE WEEK IS ESSENTIAL.
Dr. John Osborne