Women's Health Matters

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Recovering from a Heart Attack or Surgery

When a woman comes home from the hospital after heart surgery or treatment for a heart attack, she faces a tough task – learning to take care of herself. A woman may feel impatient to resume her usual activities around the home. Women who work outside the home may feel pressure to get back to their jobs. In either situation, women may neglect to get the rest they need for a full and timely recovery.

Getting All the Information You Need

  • Talk to your cardiologist or family doctor about your recovery at home. Ask what activities you can do, and when. Your doctor can give you an exercise test, where you will walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike, while the doctor monitors your heart. This test can help your doctor decide what level of activity you're ready for.
  • Learn about your condition. Read the educational materials available from your hospital, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, your local library or a women's health information centre.
  • Share information with your family so that they understand what heart disease is and tell them about your physical limitations.
  • Call your local public health unit to find out about community resources for recovering heart patients.
  • Ask your health-care providers about cardiac rehabilitation.

Changing Your Lifestyle in Recovery

  • Take it easy. Heart attack patients are usually told not to return to work for six weeks. But women often start doing household chores sooner. It's easy to forget that housework is heavy physical work. For example, lifting a wet, queen-sized sheet out of the washing machine is like lifting 7 kg (more than 15 pounds). That's not recommended for post-heart attack patients!
  • Delegate household chores. For example, if at all possible, cook one meal a day, not three, and get others to prepare the other meals.
  • Accept help from your friends, family and community. Look to your close friends and family for support.
  • If you can, spend money on things like house-cleaning help, or nutritious, low-fat frozen meals.
  • Eat several small meals a day rather than one big meal late in the day. Big meals put a heavy load on your blood circulation system. Rest after meals. Pace yourself!
  • Take lots of time to do all your activities.
  • Rest for 20 to 30 minutes, twice a day.

Sometimes it's hard to give up responsibility for your household tasks. Remind yourself that you are getting better and that your family managed somehow when you were in the hospital!

Your heart attack may have led you to make some healthy lifestyle changes. You may be:

  • quitting smoking
  • starting a heart-healthy diet
  • exercising more
  • achieving/maintaining a healthy weight
  • learning to manage stress

Because of these changes, chances are you'll feel better than ever. Many heart patients return to productive, energetic lives once they have recovered.

Having Sex After a Heart Attack or Surgery

It is safe to have sex again when you are able to be physically active without chest pain. That's usually four to six weeks into recovery. Tell your partner to be slow and gentle, with lots of cuddling and touching. Choose a time when you're relaxed and comfortable. Take the phone off the hook. Don't have sex if you're upset, tired or anxious, or after a big meal. These all put an extra load on your blood circulation system.

If you, or your partner, are concerned, speak to a member of your health-care team.

Taking Care of Your Feelings

Having a heart attack is frightening, and it can be depressing afterwards. A person who has a heart attack feels a loss of health and vitality. Not surprisingly, 25 to 30 percent of heart patients become depressed during recovery. You can help yourself by:

  • reading books about recovering from a heart attack, or dealing with depression
  • talking to your doctor, as well as supportive friends and family, about your feelings and concerns
  • joining a support group
  • seeing a social worker, psychologist or counsellor
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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital