What happens when you have
a heart attack?

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If you've had a heart attack, it probably came as a big shock to you. Fortunately, excellent heart attack treatments are now available. This leaflet gives you information about heart attacks.You'll also learn about how you can recover and stay healthy afterwards. We've brought together the best and most up-to-date research about heart attacks to see what treatments work.You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you. What happens when you have a heart attack? Your heart pumps blood around your body. It carries oxygen and energy to your muscles. Your heart is made of muscle, and needs a good blood supply to keep pumping. When you have a heart attack, one of the blood vessels that carries blood to your heart gets blocked by a blood clot. So part of the heart doesn't get enough oxygen. This often causes bad chest pain and makes you breathless. If the blood supply is cut off for too long, part of the heart will die. You'll have had emergency treatment in hospital to open up the blood vessel and get the blood flowing again. This is done by medicines, or by an operation called an angioplasty. These treatments can limit the damage to your heart. Then doctors keep a close watch over you to see if you develop any other problems. These can include having an irregular heart beat, or problems with how well your heart pumps. If a large amount of your heart muscle has been damaged by the heart attack, your heart may not pump so well as before. This is called heart failure. The most risky time is the few hours after the heart attack. Once you are beyond that, you'll probably spend four or five days resting in hospital. During this time, doctors will do more tests to try to find out exactly what happened. They'll find out which part of your heart has been damaged, and how much. If all goes well, you'll probably go home about a week after your heart attack. Having a heart attack is a big shock, especially if you were in good health beforehand. You may wonder why it happened to you. Heart attacks are caused by blood clots which form in your arteries. Doctors don't know exactly why they cause problems for some people and not others. But you're more likely to have problems if your arteries are narrow because of clumps of fat on the artery wall. Doctors call this atherosclerosis. Lots of people get it as they get older. If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your heart, this is called heart disease.You might have heart disease for many years without knowing it. A heart attack might be the first sign of trouble. Heart attacks happen more often to men, from middle age onwards.You are more likely to have a heart attack if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol (fat) in your blood, if you are overweight, smoke, or you don't take much exercise. A family history of heart attacks is also important. But sometimes heart attacks happen to people without any of these things. What happens when you go home? When you go home from hospital, you can start gradually getting back to your normal life. If you live alone, it may help to have someone stay with you for a few weeks, to help you adjust. You may feel anxious about what you can and can't do. The key is to take it slowly.You will gradually be able to walk further and do more, without getting tired and breathless. It's normal to feel tired, anxious, angry or low, after a stressful event like a heart attack. But if your low mood continues, talk to your doctor. People often become depressed after a heart attack, and there are treatments that may help you. Most people who live through a straightforward heart attack can return to their normal level of activity within six weeks.Younger people are usually back at work within three months. Many areas run cardiac rehabilitation programmes. These are programmes where you get support from specialist nurses to help you recover. Before you leave hospital, you and your doctors should discuss how you can join a programme. If your doctors don't mention it, ask. What treatments work? There are lots of good treatments to help cut your risk of having another heart attack. Medicines are important. But you can also make changes yourself that will help you live a longer, healthier life. Things you can do for yourself Before you leave hospital, make sure you understand what has happened to you. Talk about your heart attack, test results and drugs with your doctors. Learning about your heart attack and the treatment you need is an important part of getting better and lowering your risk of future trouble.Your hospital doctors, your GP and your specialist nurses can all help you learn more. If you smoke, try hard to stop. Smoking narrows the arteries and makes you more likely to have another heart attack. Get help from a health professional, like your GP. There are lots of treatments that can help you stop.You might not stop on your first try. But it's important to keep trying. It could save your life. Exercise improves stamina, strength, and makes you feel good. Over time, exercise makes your heart work better. It can also help you lose weight, if you need to.Your doctor or cardiac rehabilitation team can help you put together a safe exercise programme.You may need to be supervised at first. Many people can continue to exercise safely on their own after a few weeks. Taking part in a cardiac rehabilitation programme can help you recover from your heart attack and keep your heart healthy. Cardiac rehabilitation will help you get better faster, get fit and make changes to your diet and lifestyle to reduce your risk of having another heart attack.You may also learn to manage stress or depression, if you feel bad. Research shows that people who survive a heart attack and then go on a cardiac rehabilitation programme are likely to live longer. Everyone is different, so the rehabilitation team at your hospital will plan a programme that suits you. It may last six weeks, six months, or even longer.You need to be committed to taking part in the programme for it to work properly. Source : BJM Group. http://besttreatments.bmj.com/