Whether you’re managing heart disease through medication and lifestyle changes or if you’re recovering from surgery, you can continue to live a full life. It’s important to follow your doctor’s orders and commit to living a heart healthy life. Your overall lifestyle plays an important role in your recovery and wellbeing. A healthy lifestyle can also help prevent future heart attacks by controlling risk factors that contribute to heart disease.


Medications will be prescribed after a heart attack to prevent blood clots, lessen the workload on your heart, improve your heart’s performance and recovery and lower your cholesterol. Other medications may be given to you to lower your blood pressure, control diabetes and control heart failure.

It is very important you take these medications exactly as they have been prescribed. That means taking your medications even if you are feeling better.

Things you should remember about your medications:

  • Do not stop taking your medications unless your doctor tells you to do so. When your bottles have only a week supply left, get your refill...don’t wait.
  • Avoid missing doses. If you forget, do not take two doses to make up for the dose you missed.
  • Don’t take over the counter medications unless you ask your doctor first; this includes vitamins, herbs or other remedies from a health store.
  • Certain medications may make you feel bad initially, but will improve with time. Don’t stop taking your medications without talking to your doctor first.

Common Heart Medications

Nitroglycerin: Helps to relax and temporarily open arteries that can “spasm” and cause chest discomfort. Nitro begins to work within 30 seconds and it’s common to experience a flushed feeling and headache after taking. Follow your instructions for use.

Aspirin: Helps prevent blood products (platelets) from sticking together and forming clots. Taking aspirin with food will help prevent stomach upset.

Plavix (clopidogrel): Helps prevent platelets from sticking together and forming clots. Plavix is used in patients who cannot tolerate aspirin, or together with aspirin following an angioplasty or stent procedure.

Beta-blocker: Helps control blood pressure and irregular heartbeats and is an important medication in slowing down heart disease.

Ace inhibitor: Used to treat heart attacks and heart failure. It lowers blood pressure and helps prevent problems from heart disease and diabetes.

Physical Activity

Following treatment for heart disease, a regular exercise program will be an important part of your recovery. Exercise should use large muscle groups and be continuous. Most doctors approve of some form of walking or pedaling a stationary bicycle. Check with your doctor if you want to move up to a more vigorous physical activity.

A regular exercise program is important to your recovery and future good health. You may need to limit your activity for a while after your heart attack, but as you gain strength and begin to follow a regular exercise plan, the following are the benefits you will see:

  • Lowers your chance of having another heart attack
  • Lowers stress, tension and depression
  • Increases your strength and endurance
  • Controls body weight
  • Improves the heart’s ability to pump blood and deliver oxygen
  • Controls blood sugar
  • Lowers cholesterol and triglycerides

Diet and Nutrition

Healthy food habits can help reduce three major risk factors for heart attack and stroke: high cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess body weight. So, eating well is critical and sticking with a healthy diet is important following heart surgery or if you have heart disease.

couple in kitchen

A heart healthy diet includes eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need, and at the same time, the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight.

Trans-fatty acids or hydrogenated fats are found in foods such as vegetable shortening, hard margarines, crackers, candies, baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, salad dressing and many processed foods. Both trans-fat and saturated fat tend to raise total blood cholesterol levels and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol while lowering HDL (“good”) cholesterol. These changes increase your risk of heart disease. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil and corn oil are better choices.

Trans-fat is not needed for food preparation; in fact, they are actually prepared by heating healthier polyunsaturated fats with hydrogen. Trans-fat can be identified by the words “partially hydrogenated” preceding the name of the oil. Health food stores can be a good source of foods and snacks that are prepared without partially hydrogenated cooking oil. Always check nutrition labels and avoid saturated and trans-fatty acids, substituting them with healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Your heart will thank you!

Because too much fat can lead to heart disease, try to eat a diet low in fat, cholesterol and trans-fatty acids. A good way to keep track of your daily intake is reading food labels. Products with less than or equal to 30 percent of the calories from fat are considered low fat foods. The following is an easy guideline to follow: 3 grams of fat or less for every 100 calories is considered low fat. Limit cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams a day.