Heart attack

Recovering after a heart attack

After having a heart attack, people had to come to terms with the emotional impact of what had happened to them (see 'Coping with emotions after a heart attack'). Here we describe how people recovered physically from their heart attack.

Some people were surprised how tired and weak they felt during the first few days or weeks at home. One man described feeling exhausted after walking 50 yards to the newsagent a few days after getting home.

Others were surprised by how well they felt and could do more than they had expected. One man said he had to be careful not to do too much because he felt so well.

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At first, most people rested and were cared for by their families while they discovered what they could and couldn't manage. It can be difficult for family members to know how much people should do after a heart attack. Some men felt that their partners were over protective and thought they should be doing less than they themselves felt able to do.

One man commented that his wife had been very worried, she didn't want to let him out of her sight and he had to buy a mobile phone (see 'How it affects carer's'). Another said that other people didn't know how to treat him when he began to be more active again.

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As people got stronger they began by walking short distances and built up their strength by walking further each day. Some people found it difficult to make themselves go for walks, preferring to stay at home and watch the world go by. One man explains that although he felt concerned and conscious of any changes in his body when first went walking, he thought it was important not to be too cautious or over worried.

Many said that attending a cardiac rehabilitation programme four to six weeks after their heart attack had helped them to build up their strength and get fit (see 'Cardiac rehabilitation and support').

Some people were very conscious of any twinges or the odd chest pain and were frightened by them. One man explains that he was more aware of feelings in his body after he had a stent fitted, and he would worry about them during the night. Another said there were some nights when he was too frightened to go to sleep because he had chest pain.

Of those we interviewed many said their life was disrupted for several months, while they recovered, or waited for tests or treatment. One man who had waited nine months for an angiogram wanted to get the test done soon, so that if treatment was necessary it could be done as soon as possible. Another women didn't feel confident to do too much during the three months she waited for an angiogram. One man, who had complications, felt that the first six months were filled with medical appointments, convalescence and restrictions. Another said that during the first year, achieving different milestones helped him feel that he was getting back to normal.

Some people started having angina, or breathlessness, or they tired more easily, which affected what they could do, or they did what they had done before, but just at a slower pace.

Some who had had a more severe heart attack, found that it took longer to recover. One man slept for two to three hours each afternoon for several months after his heart attack. Another said it took a long time to recover and now because of heart failure he has limitations. A third man, who also has Cardiac Syndrome X, talks about the physical limitations he has.

For more see 'Leisure, travel and hobbies after a heart attack' and 'Returning to work after a heart attack'. A few people had angina attacks during the first few weeks at home and had to return to hospital for a short period, and some had to have coronary artery bypass surgery.

Last reviewed June 2017.

Last updated June 2017.


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