Managing Heart Disease
As with other chronic diseases, heart disease requires lifelong management. Making heart healthy changes in your daily life remains the single most effective way to stop the disease from progressing. If you have already survived a heart attack, adopting better lifestyle habits can reduce the risk of another one.Check out WomenHeart’s lifesaving heart health tips so that you can live your life to its fullest:
Commit to eating a heart healthy diet. Eating a low-fat diet and watching your salt intake can help you manage heart disease. Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, fiber and lean poultry and meat. Ask your health care team about the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, one strategy for lowering high blood pressure.
Step it up. Regular physical activity can do wonders for improving heart function, controlling your weight, lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It can also prevent depression and minimize stress. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise daily is associated with lower death rates from heart disease. Go for a brisk walk, ride a bike, garden or swim. Before you get moving, talk with your doctor about what types and duration of exercise are best for you.
Watch your weight. Excess body fat forces your heart to work harder and can worsen heart disease. Shedding even a small amount of weight can make a big difference. Losing weight may reduce cardiovascular risk by controlling high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and diabetes. The best way to lose weight is through a combination of diet and exercise.
Stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke. Smoking can damage your heart and blood vessels. People who smoke also have a tendency towards blood clots and high blood pressure. Quitting dramatically cuts the risk to your heart, even within the first year.
Reduce stress. Learn to recognize signs of stress in your life and practice lowering stress levels with meditation, yoga, or rhythmic breathing. Regular exercise is a great stress buster too.
Making lifestyle changes isn’t easy. It requires discipline, patience and support from those around you. Remember to:
- Set realistic goals and map out a plan that you can follow.
- Make one change at a time.
- Know there will be good days and bad, so don’t beat yourself up or overdo it.
- Share your goals with family and friends; they will support you.
- Seek out WomenHeart support groups to share tips and personal experiences with other women like you.
Tips for Managing Prescription Medication
Keeping up with your prescription medicines can be a challenge. Follow these tips to make sure you stay on top of your prescription medicine regimen:
- Keep a list of all your prescription medicines and their daily dosage.
- Give a copy of the list to each doctor you visit.
- Give added copies of the list to your family members.
- Don’t take more or less of the medicines than your doctor prescribes.
- Don’t skip a dose or take less frequently the medicines as prescribed.
- Don’t stop taking the medicines too soon or when you begin to feel better.
- Be careful to store your medications in a temperature-controlled environment that is not too humid; ask your pharmacist if any of your prescriptions can or should be stored in the refrigerator.
- Wear your reading glasses when reading a prescription medicine container label. Also, ask the pharmacist for a large-type prescription medicine information sheet when filling your prescription.
- Hide all your prescription medicines out of sight and in a safe place when the grandchildren come to visit or when any strangers will be in your home — to perform repairs or for a social event. (It’s amazing how often prescription medicines are stolen).
- Schedule a yearly comprehensive medicine check-up with your doctor or healthcare professional to discuss: whether to continue each over-the-counter medicine, vitamin, herbal remedy, and prescription medicine; possible duplicate medicines; potential harmful interactions; and any changes in dosages.
Recovering from a Heart Attack
“You’ve had a heart attack.”
These five words will change your life. They are very scary and may suggest death, long-term disability, or endless pain and suffering. You must be asking yourself:
- Can I ever recover from the trauma of this near-death experience?
- Will I ever stop being afraid?
- Will my life ever get back to normal?
- Will I ever feel like a healthy person again?
- Will I live for another year?
- What are my chances of having another heart attack?
- Can I ever overcome my heart disease?
- Will I ever find someone who understands how I feel?
Our goal is to help you help yourself. The more knowledge and insight we share with each other, the more we will all lead healthier and productive lives. The one thing we know firsthand is that you can recover and live a healthy life.
Some of your recovery obviously depends upon the quality of and how quickly you received medical care, your age, whether you have another medical condition (such as diabetes, obesity, or depression) other than heart disease, and if you can afford health insurance and prescription medication.
But we also know that your chances of recovery improve dramatically if you follow your health care providers’ treatment instructions AND are willing to assume responsibility for your own health and recovery. This means you need to keep up your end of the recovery bargain and make necessary changes in your life:
- Getting regular exercise
- Stopping smoking
- Controlling diabetes, depression, or obesity
- Taking medicines as prescribed
- Keeping all healthcare appointments
- Reducing your anger and stress
In other words, you have to put yourself, your health, and your heart’s recovery first above all else. It must become your number one priority. If you find this difficult, you’re not alone. Many of us have spent our whole lives putting the needs of others ahead of our own.
It’s also easy to feel overwhelmed, confused, and defeated even before you begin. There are many changes you will be expected to make. Too many doctors and healthcare professionals telling you what to do. Too many friends hovering over you. Too many family members monitoring what you eat. Too many medicines to take.
Many women report that it takes several years to recover fully from a heart attack — physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Go slowly – making small changes in your diet and exercise over two or three months is a good way to feel in control and stay positive. Eventually, with your efforts and good medical care, you will re-gain your self-confidence and live life to the fullest. Remember, you are not your disease – you are a woman living with heart disease who also has a life to lead.
Your doctor may recommend that you attend a cardiac rehabilitation program during which healthcare professionals and exercise physiologists will work with you to develop healthy eating habits and start you on a graduated program of exercise. These programs also offer guidance about reducing your risk for another heart attack, such as smoking cessation, and lowering high blood pressure and high cholesterol. If your doctor does not recommend cardiac rehab, find out why and discuss whether this might be a good thing for you.
Sometimes cardiac rehab programs are geared for older men, so ask if any provisions are made for women your age. If you are working, scheduling may be a problem since many rehab programs are held during the morning. Also, check if your health insurance company will pay for cardiac rehab. (Most companies cover cardiac rehab after a heart attack or angioplasty).