After a heart attack

A heart attack is a frightening, life-changing event which can affect the entire family.

Emotional reactions. The typical reaction is to fear or worry about the possibility of another heart attack. Those who have had a heart attack are at higher risk for having another one, however only 18% of heart attack patients end up back in the hospital in the first month after.

Getting depressed is very common, one-third of heart attack survivors experience depression. This depression can drain a patient’s motivation to follow up with the needed medical and lifestyle changes. If you are suspicious of depression in your relative, talk to the doctor. Depression is treatable. Provide support to your relative, by arranging enjoyable activities for them. The goal is to get them back to a more normal life. Going to a movie theater or watching children play at the park might be helpful activities.

Some other common emotional reactions include: frustration or anger, especially at first, when everyday tasks that are usually easy prove to be difficult.

Mental reactions. Many heart attack patients complain of having fuzzy thinking. This issue often clears up in time. The first few weeks following the incident, don’t expect your relative to buzz through the crossword puzzle.

Common physical reactions can include shortness of breath and fatigue, palpitations (a fluttery heart beat) and sleep problems. If you have questions or concerns, check with the doctor.

When to get help. If your relative experiences any of the below symptoms, the American Heart Association suggests to contact medical personnel right away:

  • Chest pain, tightness, pressure or pain in the arms, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Pale, sweaty skin
  • Very fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling or pain in the legs
  • Sudden, overwhelming fatigue