What Happens After You've Had a Heart Attack

A heart attack can be scary, especially if you’ve never experienced heart problems. The symptoms of a heart attack are not only uncomfortable but also very time-sensitive. Without immediate proper treatment for a heart attack, a person can experience heart failure. 

What is a heart attack, and how do you learn to recognize the warning signs for one? Moreover, if you have a heart attack, what will the recovery process look like, and how can you support your health during this time? 

Carda is here to answer these questions about a heart attack today. Read on to learn how to support your cardiovascular health and overall wellness. 

What Is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when the blood supply to your heart becomes partially or completely cut off. Without adequate blood flow, your heart muscle begins to die. 

A heart attack is a severe, life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical attention. The longer a person goes without treatment, the greater the damage to their heart. Treatment usually involves medicine or a catheter placement to expel the cutoff source and restore blood flow.

What Causes a Heart Attack?

The leading cause of heart attacks is coronary artery disease (CAD). Your coronary arteries are the blood vessels that wrap around your heart to supply this muscle with oxygen-rich blood. They also carry away oxygen-depleted blood. With CAD, your coronary arteries experience one or more blockages. 

A blockage can occur when fat, cholesterol, or other materials accumulate and deposit on your artery walls' inner lining to create plaques. When these plaques begin to accumulate, atherosclerosis may occur, which is when there is such an accretion of plaque on your coronary artery walls that they narrow and become blocked.

In addition to severely narrowing your artery walls, atherosclerosis can also cause a blockage if one or more of the plaques bursts. A blood clot can form in the event of a plaque rupture, which severely diminishes blood flow to the heart. 

There are several risk factors for CAD, including your personal and family medical history, other underlying health conditions, lifestyle, and age. The most prevalent risk factors for coronary artery or other heart diseases are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. 

Other, less common causes for a heart attack include a coronary artery spasm, blunt trauma, or a rare underlying medical condition. 

What Symptoms Can You Expect After a Heart Attack?

If you are having a heart attack, you might experience one or more of the following symptoms: shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations, or skipped heartbeats. 

Let's take a look at each of these signs of a heart attack below. 

Shortness of Breath

Your heart muscle is hard at work pumping all day so that it can supply your tissues with enough circulation to function. As part of this exchange, your lung tissues supply your heart muscle with oxygen. 

However, if your heart cannot adequately pump enough blood to your lung tissues to invigorate them with circulation, your lungs cannot function optimally — and this can lead to shortness of breath. 

A person experiencing shortness of breath might notice that they cannot catch their breath or that their breathing patterns become more rapid and shallow. 

Chest Pain

Also known as angina, chest pain can present as a tightness or squeezing sensation in the chest, which many people usually label as discomfort. Chest pain can also be more severe, like a suffocating or crushing feeling. 

More extreme chest pain usually feels like something extremely heavy is resting on top of your chest.


Heart palpitations occur when your heart flutters as if its beat rapidly increases for a very brief period of time. This change in heart rhythms diminishes your heart's ability to pump blood effectively to all the tissues and organs in your body. 

Skipped Heart Beats

Skipped heartbeats are another arrhythmic event that can diminish your heart's ability to pump blood throughout your body. Sometimes, people describe skipped heartbeats or other palpitations as "throbbing" or "pounding" sensations in their neck and chest. 

How Long Does It Take To Recover After a Heart Attack?

In general, the heart attack recovery period can last anywhere from two weeks to three months. Where a person falls within this recovery time frame for a heart attack depends on a combination of different factors. 

The severity of the condition, the length of time before medical intervention and treatment, and the type of treatment a patient receives can all influence recovery time. For example, a heart attack can affect the entire heart or just one part of the heart muscle. 

Recovery time also depends on how strong a person's health was before the heart attack and if they have any other medical conditions.

How Can You Support Your Heart Health After a Heart Attack?

While a heart attack can seem scary, there are several different positive outlooks regarding ways to support your health after a heart attack. These options include cardiac rehab, healthy lifestyle changes, and stress management. 

With any of these options, you should always discuss your plan with your team of healthcare professionals. Read on to find out more about each of these support methods. 

Cardiac Rehab

Cardiac rehabilitation is a program that incorporates physical activity, nutrition, education, and stress management to help someone recover from a cardiac procedure or event. Rehab can also help reduce a person's risk of experiencing a cardiac event like a heart attack in the future. 

Cardiac rehab programs are often an important part of a person's heart attack recovery journey because they can aid in improving a patient's overall wellness and quality of life, and can help with stress management during the recovery period. 

Carda offers at-home virtual cardiac rehab so you can experience high-quality care from the comfort of your own home. Get started today to be matched with an expert physiologist, and work towards a recovery plan that best suits your unique needs. 

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes often involve altering your diet and your exercise routine. When it comes to your diet, there are many different heart-healthy food options you can incorporate into your meals. A heart-healthy diet generally includes many fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, healthy fats, lean meats, and low-fat dairy choices. 

It is also important to engage in safe exercise routines that help get your body moving yet remain conscious of the fact that you still need to rest and not overdo it. Joining a cardiac rehabilitation program is usually the safest way to engage in exercise that is heart attack-conscious, because the programs run under the supervision of guided experts. 

Stress Management

Healthy living can be hard if you feel stressed. It is normal to experience feelings of stress, anxiety, or fear after a heart attack — it is a scary experience. That's why stress management is a key part of recovery. 

Stress management can look different for every person, but the general idea is to focus on self-care and prioritize activities that make you feel calm or at ease. A good place to start is to uphold your basic daily routine at home, even if you need to take a slower pace when you do so. 

If your routine is to wake up, have a cup of coffee in your pajamas, and then get dressed for the day ahead, try to keep this up to maintain your mental health. 

Other activities that can help manage stress include getting enough sleep at night, going for walks, connecting with friends, and doing hobbies that you enjoy, like reading a book or playing a game. 

The Bottom Line

A heart attack is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when your heart does not get enough blood supply. A blockage in your coronary arteries, due to plaque buildup and rupture (atherosclerosis), is the leading cause of heart attacks. 

Without enough blood flow to your heart, this essential muscle begins to die. The longer a person goes without medical attention, the greater the damage to their heart muscle can be. If a person experiences chest pain, shortness of breath, or heart palpitations, then they may be experiencing a heart attack and should seek medical intervention immediately. 

Fortunately, there are several different practices you can engage in during your recovery period to support your heart health. In addition to altering your lifestyle choices and managing your stress, you can also benefit from a cardiac rehab program like the at-home virtual care that Carda offers. Support your heart health, and your overall wellness, with Carda today. 


Heart Attack Symptoms, Risk, and Recovery | CDC

Heart Attack Recovery: How Long It Takes & What to Expect | Cleveland Clinic

Life After a Heart Attack | American Heart Association

What Is a Heart Attack? | National Institute on Aging

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