You've had a Heart Attack - What Now??

What Information do You NEED to Know?
What Information do You WANT to Know?

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle, become blocked. Blood carries oxygen to the heart muscle. When the blood flow is stopped or slowed down, the muscle does not receive the oxygen it needs, and pain, called angina, occurs. If the flow of blood and oxygen are stopped long enough, some of the heart muscle will die. This is a heart attack. Damage to the heart may be slight, with little impact in the ability of the heart to function. A "massive" heart attack significantly reduces the ability of the heart muscle to pump. It may also effect the functioning of the valves in the heart. Typical symptoms include chest tightness, burning or pressure. Often this discomfort is also felt in the left shoulder, left arm and hand, and sometimes in the neck and/or jaw. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sweating, dizziness, and skin that is cold to the touch. Somtimes symptoms are not typical, and include shortness of breath and fatigue.

American Heart Association Heart & Stroke A-Z Guide

What Do I NEED to
Know for My Safety and Well-Being?

  1. Recognize YOUR symptoms of heart pain, they may not be the same as other peoples
  2. RESPOND QUICKLY - Stop activity and lie down.
    Place 1 nitroglygerine tablet under the tongue. Wait 5 min. If pain continues take a 2nd tablet. Wait another 5 min. If pain continues take a 3rd tablet, and call 911.
  3. If you are having chest pain DO NOT DRIVE YOURSELF TO THE HOSPITAL. Call 911 for an ambulance. Your heart needs to rest, and you put yourself and others in jeopardy by trying to drive.
  4. Have family members learn CPR - Be prepared.
  5. Learn how to count your pulse. Place two fingers (never the thumb) on the inside of the wrist, below the base of the thumb. When you feel the pulse, count for 1 min., or for 15 sec. and multiply times 4.
  6. Always carry a list of your medications in your wallet.

What Do I Want to Know to Feel
Better and Live Longer?

You are the best person to identify your personal risk factors for heart disease. Risk factors that you can modify include: activity, diet, and use of tobacco products. You are the one who will make the daily choices that will improve your health.

Heart Information Navigation Network-Risk Factors

  • Activity - Exercise will strengthen you heart muscle, make you feel more energetic, improve your circulation, reduce stress, and help you maintain a positive mental attitude.
    • Gradually build up your activity according to your doctor's recommendation
    • Brisk walking is terrific exercise. Walking 3 days a week for 30 minutes (or 15 min. in the morning and evening) is good for your heart. 4-6 times a week is GREAT! Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
    • Check your pulse at rest, and during and after exercise. Your pulse should not increase more than 20 beats above your resting heart rate. While exercising, you should always be able to carry on a conversation. You should not be gasping or out of breath.

  • Food Choices
    • Moderate size portions
    • Less fat in cooking and in foods
    • Limit salt and sodium if you have high blood pressure
    • Making small changes in your diet, will help you make healthy eating a life-long habit

    Nutrition, Weight Control & Eating Out by Medical Strategies
    Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
    Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight Loss Program

  • Smoking - Smoking constricts the coronary arteries, thus decreasing the flow of blood to the heart muscle. The best activity you can choose to do for your heart, is to quit smoking or chewing tobacco. This is a difficult choice to make because the nicotine in tobacco is an addictive substance. But now there are over-the-counter products (patches and gum) that can help you kick the nicotine habit, and successfully stop using tobacco gradually.

    American Heart Association Smoking Cessation Page
    The Master Anti-Smoking Page

  • Medications - Your doctor may prescribe several types of medications. If you are on many medications and are unsure about them, try making a chart, or get a medication holder from your pharmicist or doctor. Do not hesitate to call your doctor with questions. Remember, if you are having problems or side-effects from your meds, don't stop taking them until you talk with your doctor.

  • Resuming Sexual Activity - Concerns and fears are normal after a heart attack. This is a common area of concern; you don't need to be embarrassed to talk with your health care provider.
    • Sexual intimacy takes many forms. Touching, holding, caressing are ways to gradually resume and share intimacy.
    • Open discussion with your partner about fears and needs will help let you both relax and get back in touch with each other.
    • If you are upset, fatigued, or stressed, sexual activity should probably be avoided.
    • Remember, you can use your short acting nitroglycerine tablet under the tongue before vigorous activity, including sex.
    • You are the best judge of how you feel. Resume sexual activity when you are comfortable and ready to do so.

    American Heart Association Recommendations

    What if I want more information? What Resources do I have?

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Barbara Murdoch Perra is a registered
    nurse who presently works as an Assistant Nurse Manager of the Special
    Procedure Unit at the University of Washington Medical Center. She has
    practicing for over 20 years, and has been a certified critical care nurse
    for over 15 years.  Her primary experience is in critical care, including
    the cardiothorasic intensive care unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Since
    1988 she has been working in ambulatory/short stay nursing at the
    University of
    Washington Medical Center
    Disclaimer: This information is not
    intended to replace the recommendations of your physician.  Consult your
    physician before using any of the above information.

    Last updated: November 17, 1997