Most Americans survive a first heart attack but are at increased risk
for another one. By taking action, however, they can significantly
reduce their chances for a second heart attack.
These factors increase your risk for another heart attack, according to
the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP):
Being overweight or obese
High blood sugar if you have diabetes
High blood pressure
"People who have heart attacks, then implement appropriate lifestyle
changes and follow their treatment plans, can expect to live a healthy,
full life for years to come," says Clyde W. Yancy, MD, a cardiologist in
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following actions to
reduce your risk for a second heart attack.
You can cut your risk of another heart attack in half by not smoking.
By cutting back on saturated fat and trans fat, you can lower your LDL
("bad") cholesterol, one of the primary substances that cause heart
attacks. Food manufacturers are currently reducing or eliminating trans
fats from their products. You can avoid most trans fatty acids, however,
by eating less margarine and fewer cookies, crackers, fries, doughnuts
and other snack foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils.
Besides eating a heart-healthy diet such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches
to Stop Hypertension) diet, you can help keep your cholesterol under
control by exercising regularly. Your doctor may also prescribe a
cholesterol-lowering medication such as a statin.
A study published in the journal Circulation found that heart attack
survivors who increased their activity levels were nearly twice as
likely as inactive patients to still be alive seven years after their
attacks. Exercise is important because it strengthens the heart muscle.
It also boosts your energy level and helps with weight management,
cholesterol and blood pressure. The AHA recommends a minimum of 30 to 60
minutes of walking or other moderately vigorous exercise at least three
or four times each week.
If you've had a heart attack, you must get your doctor's OK before
starting an exercise program.
If you have any of these symptoms during exercise, call your doctor
immediately, the AAFP says:
Shortness of breath that lasts for more than 10 minutes
Chest pain or pain in your arms, neck, jaw or stomach
Pale or splotchy skin
Very fast heartbeat or irregular heartbeat
Nausea and vomiting
Weakness, swelling or pain in your legs
Being overweight dramatically increases your risk of having a second
heart attack. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor for help. Your
BMI (body mass index) should be between 18.5 and 24.9. This is the
Follow your health care provider's suggestions.
Depression, stress, anxiety and anger can damage your heart and overall
health. See a therapist if you need help maintaining your emotional
Taking your heart, cholesterol and blood pressure medications as
directed and having regular doctor visits are imperative.
"In addition to following your medical prescription, the actions you can
take that don't cost a thing—like exercising, improving your diet and
losing weight—are equally important in preventing a second heart
attack," says Dr. Yancy. "It's all about making wise decisions."
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.