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Finding the new normal after a heart attack

Sixty years ago, heart attacks were often fatal. Doctors were taught that the best way to “treat” heart attacks were to keep people quiet, give them something to ease the chest pain and let nature take its course. About half of heart attack victims died within a few days under this plan of action. But things began to change in the 1960s as hospitals started putting in coronary care units and studied heart attacks.

Today, more than 90% of heart attack victims survive, according to Harvard Health. Most go on to live many years provided they take steps to change their lifestyle. Although the statistics are encouraging, having a heart attack is still an upsetting and life changing event.

Here are a few suggestions from the American Heart Association about adjusting to the “new normal” following a heart attack.

Take a break
A heart attack is a serious event and even after you have been released from the hospital, it is important to take a break. Your doctor will tell you how long to rest before returning to work, usually two weeks but sometimes as long as three months. Don’t be heroic and ignore this advice. Rest is important following a heart attack, so get some sleep and  take a nap if you feel tired. Listen to your body and take care of your health.

Acknowledge your emotions
During the two to three months following a heart attack, it is normal to feel a range of emotions from anger to fear to depression. Every little chest pain can feel like another attack, which can make you feel anxious. Talk about your feelings with family and friends or seek professional help if the emotions begin to affect your sleep, appetite or self-esteem.

Take your medications
Even if you were in otherwise good health before the heart attack, you will need to take prescribed medications. These medications can lower your risk of having another cardiac event if taken properly.

Follow through on follow-ups
Your doctor will want to see you following a heart attack to monitor your recovery and adjust medications if needed. Visits are short, so prepare a list of information to make the most of the time. Write down how you feel, noting any patterns like increased chest pain during activity or other unfamiliar symptoms. Write down any questions you might have about medications or other instructions. If you don’t understand why you are taking a medication or whether you can take on a new activity, ask for clarification. Sometimes it is helpful to repeat the information from the doctor in your own words to make sure you understand. Finally, express any concerns you have about your health. The doctor only sees you for minutes, so it is up to you to share information about your health status.

Go to cardiac rehabilitation
Don’t try to get back into the swing of things on your own. Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program specifically designed to meet your needs. Make it a priority. It is not uncommon to feel healthier than ever after faithfully completing cardiac rehabilitation.

Make lifestyle changes
This is the time to make lifestyle changes. Stop smoking, improve your diet, start regular physical activity, watch your blood pressure and control your blood sugar.

Know the warning signs
It is critical to act if you believe you are having another heart attack. The warning signs include pain, pressure or tightness in the chest, discomfort that radiates into the shoulders, neck, back or jaw, shortness of breath or unexplained dizziness, lightheadedness or a cold sweat. If these symptoms occur, call 911.

Talk about the heart attack
Communication is important following a heart attack. It is not something you can forget about and put behind you. You will need to stay in contact with your medical team so they can continue to monitor your health. Talk with your family and co-workers about your lifestyle changes and ask for their support.

A recovery option
It can be tempting to fall back into unhealthy habits following a heart attack. Change is hard but necessary. One way to address this challenge is to choose to recover in a short-term care facility where there is everything from rehabilitation equipment to unfailing support to help with your recovery.

Whitehall of Deerfield, the area’s premier post-hospital rehabilitation center, has consistently received Medicare’s highest rating in Medicare’s five-star rating system of nursing and rehabilitation centers, making it one of the best options for recovery in the area. The expert staff is dedicated to providing the highest standards of customer service and clinical care. Whitehall of Deerfield also provides an in-house electrocardiogram (EKG) and a state-of-the-art therapy gym to deliver safe and effective care. The medical team, which includes a full-time nurse practitioner and a full-time respiratory therapist, can address your health needs and provide an effective recovery experience.

In addition to superior care, Whitehall of Deerfield offers a variety of hotel-like amenities that include attentive concierge service, daily delivery of Starbucks coffee and newspaper to your room, fresh baked goods, massage services, salon services, a wide-ranging choice of cuisine in their selective menus to be enjoyed in a beautiful dining room or in the privacy of your room, complimentary ice cream shop, a putting green, a nostalgic Main Street with delightful diversions for both guests and visitors and much more.

For an effective recovery experience following a heart attack or other hospital stay, turn to Whitehall of Deerfield for the best level of care. To discover more about the services found at Whitehall of Deerfield, visit whitehallofdeerfield.com or call 847-945-4600.

300 Waukegan Road Deerfield, IL 60015 | 847.945.4600