Recovering After Heart Attack

Heart attacks in women present differently than in men.  My first heart attack was relatively painless.  I felt a sharp stabbing pain, which went away quickly.  Then I felt the color draining from my face.  Next, I experienced extreme fatigue and breathlessness. However, because I was sick from pertussis a few months prior, I shrugged it off, thinking it would go away. If only I give it a few more minutes.   Many women have early signs of a heart attack that are often ignored.  Women tend to be in denial, which causes them valuable time! Do not delay! Get help right away. Think Time=Muscle. An increase in time seeking medical help, vacillating, procrastinating, and denial ― decreases muscle.  Women having a heart attack may also experience a delay in response to treatment. This is another reason to speak up! Now is NOT the time to be shy.

After the shock and dismay of the first heart attack, thinking positively about the attack as a wake-up call.  Although cardiac rehab was not offered to me in the hospital, I was determined not to let it beat me down.  I joined a gym and worked out six days a week.  I began to feel better and get stronger.  It was hard to believe I even had a heart attack, but my new found joy was short lived.   Once you have had a heart attack you are at higher risk for a second heart attack.   I figure with my healthy lifestyle it wasn’t going to get me.  After all my arteries had no obstructions, blood pressure was good and I had no cholesterol problems.  WRONG!

Six weeks later, I had another heart attack, which presented as the typical crushing pain, fatigue, and pain down the left arm. There was no mistake; this was a full blown heart attack.  As we were driving to the country clinic, I was thinking that my ‘golden hour’ was shrinking. I was wasting time going there, when I should have gone straight to the hospital.  This attack was seven times worse than the first attack.  When I came home, I was very depressed and completely devastated.   My world was imploding. I would lie in bed at night and weep.  I was grieving for that part of my heart that died.  Life as I knew it was never the same.  I remember feeling life starting to slip away; I was no longer a participant.  The medications made me feel sick and fragile.  It took several weeks to begin to feel normal.  Although my family was a great comfort and support, I still felt alone.  After a heart attack, you need to talk with someone that really understands what you are going through.  When I talk to other cardiac survivors, they know the difference when they talk to someone who has been in the trenches and survived.  It is a privilege and honor to help others in such a profound way.  This is why it is important to give back and help others.

I have many cardiac survivors that call me for heart coaching and support.  Here are a few tips on what I did to recover from a heart attack:

1)      Look at your modifiable risks factors

  • Patterns that may increase your risk of another attack.
  • If you smoke, quit. (In the book, I have smoking script to help you, which is a considerable cost saving to you versus a private session.
  • If you need to lose weight, start making changes. (In the book, you will find a weight loss script that helps to condition your mind to make healthy choices.)
  • If you are sedentary, get moving. Check out cardiac rehab and/or check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
  • Monitor your blood pressure.

2)      Develop a positive mental attitude

  • Learn to meditate, relax and de-stress.
  • Move from a position of fear and become fearless.
  • Time to clean the emotional baggage and let go.
  • Learn to think and act positively.
  • Visualize and think about how you want your heart to be.

3)      Develop sound health principles

  • Write down what you do in a 24 hour period.
  • What do you do to promote health?
  • How much time do you allow for health?

4)      Get support and help from others

  • Learn your limitations and your safe zone for exercise. Many people are afraid to do anything, which is why it is important to go to rehab so that you can be monitored. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Family, friends and a support group are important to recovery.
  • Seek professional help from someone who understands and can empower you.
  • Get a sleep study.

Women with heart problems need a little hand holding to integrate back into life again.  It is devastating to have a heart attack, physically and emotionally, regardless if you are a man or women.  I felt that my life would never be the same, but I was able to move through the emotional pain of the heart attack and create complete healing for myself.   I am looking forward to hearing from your experiences!

For more information read, A Woman’s Heart Attack: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You: What Every Women Needs to Know to Prevent, Recover, and Heal from a Heart Attack.  Although, this book was written with the female heart in mind, there are many aspects that are equally  important for  men  recovering and healing from a heart attack or heart failure.


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  1. So much absolutely golden advice here, Dr. Nori. I’m particularly glad to see that you’ve mentioned two particular points:

    First, DEPRESSION following a cardiac event: this is an under-appreciated reality, rarely discussed with patients about before hospital discharge. When I was at Mayo Clinic following my own heart attack in 2008, cardiologists at the Mayo Women’s Heart Clinic warned that up to 65% of survivors experience symptoms of debilitating depression, yet fewer than 10% are appropriately identified. Some studies on PTSD among cardiac survivors describe this as fearing not the external threat “out there” as experienced by combat veterans, for example, but the threat that beats within our chests.

    Second, get a SLEEP STUDY! Sleep breathing issues represent yet another unappreciated and unrecognized risk factor that few of us patients have even heard about.

    Thanks so much for this excellent post.

    • Hello Carolyn!
      Thanks so much for your comments and insights! Yes, PTSD is very real for the cardiac survivors, especially, those with AICDs and phantom shocks. Eventually the depression goes away but you really have to work on it and get some help if you need too. I tired to get help but was told, I did not look depressed! Sleep studies are so important to the cardiac patient and many doctors are not aware of it. Thanks again for sharing!

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