How do I minimize the possibility of a second heart attack?

Ask: What are some easy changes we can make at home to help my dad minimize his chances of another heart attack?

Answer: I’m sorry your dad had a heart attack, but it’s great that you’re helping to support him. Having a heart attack is a life-changing event. According to the CDC, about 25% of heart attacks that occur each year happen to people who have already had a heart attack. The good news is that there are things that can be done to reduce the risk of an initial or subsequent heart attack.

There are things that can be done to reduce the risk of an initial or subsequent heart attack.

First, be a partner with your primary care provider or heart specialist in managing your health. Some important steps to consider:

  • Have a plan of action. Learn what symptoms to watch for and what to do if you have them. For example, your provider may prescribe nitroglycerin if you have chest pain. Ask your provider for an “action plan” with symptoms to watch for and steps to take.
  • Take all medications as prescribed. Your provider or pharmacist should review all medications, including supplements and other over-the-counter medications. If the drug plan is complicated, the provider may make some changes to make the plan easier.
  • If you have other chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, managing these conditions can help reduce your risk of another heart attack. Your provider may want you to keep track of your blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, how often you have symptoms, or other numbers.
  • Get the right kind and amount of physical activity. Your provider can recommend an activity plan that is safe for you. For example, a healthy goal for most adults is two hours and 30 minutes or more of physical activity, in addition to their regular activities, each week.
  • Eat well. Your provider can recommend a healthy eating plan. Reduce sodium (salt) and unhealthy fat intake by preparing more meals at home and limiting the number of meals you eat at restaurants. When preparing meals at home, use whole foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean or plant-based protein sources (such as tofu, beans, skinless chicken breast, or white meat fish such as cod or tilapia). Avoid highly processed foods like frozen dinners, chips, ice cream, cookies, and these types of foods tend to be high in unhealthy fats and sodium.
  • Lose weight, if necessary. Your provider can help you set weight loss goals and recommend a healthy eating plan for weight loss.
  • See your provider as often as recommended. Your provider may want to do tests several times a year to check your heart health.

Next, if you smoke, quit. You can find free help at 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669). And if you drink alcohol, talk to your provider about how much is safe to drink. In general, it is recommended that the number of daily alcoholic beverages be limited to two drinks or less for men and one drink or less for women. However, for those who have heart disease, other chronic conditions, or take certain medications, the healthiest and safest option is to choose not to drink.

For people who live alone, getting a personal emergency response device can give you some peace of mind knowing that you can call for help right away if something isn’t right.

Finally, laugh, have fun, spend time with the people you love (or at least like!), and enjoy your life! After having a heart attack, it is common to experience feelings of stress, sadness, or worry. If you have these feelings, it is important to talk to your provider and ask for help.

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