Helping to Prevent a Second Heart Attack

Most Americans survive a first heart attack, but are at increased risk for another one. By taking action, however, you can significantly reduce your chance for a second heart attack.

Risk factors

These factors increase your risk for another heart attack, according to multiple medical societies:

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Being overweight or obese

  • High cholesterol

  • High blood sugar if you have diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Smoking

  • Excess stress

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following actions to reduce your risk for a second heart attack:

Quit smoking

You can cut your risk for another heart attack in half by not smoking.

Eat a heart-healthy diet

By cutting back on saturated fat and trans fat, you can lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol, one of the primary substances that cause heart attacks. Food manufacturers are currently reducing or eliminating trans fats from their products. You can avoid most trans fatty acids, however, by eating less margarine and fewer cookies, crackers, fries, doughnuts, and other snack foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils.

Control your cholesterol

Besides eating a heart-healthy diet, such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, you can help keep your cholesterol under control by exercising regularly. Your doctor may also prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication, such as a statin.

Exercise regularly

Exercise is important because it strengthens your heart muscle. It also boosts your energy level and helps with weight management, cholesterol, and blood pressure. The AHA recommends a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of walking or other moderately vigorous exercise at least three to five times each week.

If you've had a heart attack, you must get your doctor's OK before starting an exercise program.

If you have any of these symptoms during exercise, call your doctor immediately:

  • Shortness of breath that lasts for more than 10 minutes

  • Chest pain or pain in your arms, neck, jaw, or stomach

  • Dizzy spells

  • Pale or splotchy skin

  • Very fast heartbeat or irregular heartbeat

  • Cold sweats

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Weakness, swelling, or pain in your legs

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight dramatically increases your risk for a second heart attack. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor for help. Your BMI (body mass index) should be between 18.5 and 24.9. This is the healthiest range.

Control high blood pressure

Follow your health care provider's suggestions.

Assess your mental health

Depression, stress, anxiety, and anger can damage your heart and overall health. See a therapist if you need help maintaining your emotional balance.

Take your medications as directed

Taking your heart, cholesterol, and blood pressure medications as directed, and having regular doctor visits, are very important.