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Bounce back after a heart attack.

Physical and emotional recovery from a heart attack can be a challenge for many patients. “After a person has their first heart attack, life changes,” says Jan McAlister, a nurse practitioner at Piedmont Heart Institute. “It makes a big impact on them and their families.”

During recovery, many patients suffer from some level of depression. “They are having to deal with a significant event that often changes their life,” she explains. “As far as feeling back to normal, it usually takes people about six months.”

Cardiac rehabilitation and lifestyle changes

Cardiac rehabilitation is an important part of heart attack recovery. Rehabilitation begins in the hospital after the heart event and intervention, such as a stent or bypass surgery. “All patients are encouraged to go to cardiac rehab,” says McAlister. “I also tell patients that this is a great time to make changes in their diet and exercise habits in order to prevent future events from occurring,” she says. “This is when we discuss medications, dietary and lifestyle changes, and increasing exercise through cardiac rehabilitation so they have someone monitoring them.”

The emotional toll of a heart attack

McAlister encourages heart attack survivors to talk about their feelings with loved ones. “I let them know that their feelings are totally normal and it’s not just them feeling this way,” she says. “Almost everyone in that situation has those same exact feelings. Their family is probably feeling just as apprehensive as they are."

Patients may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they receive from their care team. “The first thing I tell patients when they come in after having their first event is to relax and take it one day at a time,” says McAlister.

She also stresses the importance of paying attention to any symptoms they experience. “Their cardiac symptoms are going to come back the same way every time, so they need to remember what their symptoms felt like when they had the heart attack,” she says. If a patient has those symptoms again, it is a red flag. “They need to call their doctor or go to the emergency room,” she says. For more information about heart attack symptoms, treatment and recovery, visit Piedmont Heart Institute.

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