Life after a heart attack

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Talking Things Through: Abdul Ghani, a cardiologist at Advocate South Suburban Hospital, speaks with a patient at Advocate South Suburban Hospital. | Photo courtesy of Advocate South Suburban Hospital

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 715,000 Americans every year have a heart attack. Of those, 190,000 have had a heart attack before.

With statistics like those, prevention becomes as important after a heart attack as before. Abdul Ghani, a cardiologist at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, said the process can be difficult, but proper treatment and adherence to recommendations can mean the difference between life and death.

“Recovering from a heart attack can be a long process,” Ghani said.

It can mean big lifestyle changes for patients, as heart disease is affected by many factors including diet, exercise, smoking and conditions such as diabetes, as well as hereditary risks.

“Most people want to change, [but] there are definitely some people who are resistant,” he said.

While patients can’t change their family histories, by following some basic guidelines, they can change the course of the future.

1. Eat a heart-healthy diet. Get control of blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes.

The first phase of cardiac rehab occurs while the patient is still in the hospital. During this phase, the patient will receive dietary counseling. Once released, patients have access to the hospital’s programs dealing with the issues they face. Advocate South Suburban offers an adult diabetes wellness program as well as nutritional counseling and other programs.

2. Exercise and stop smoking.

This phase also begins in the hospital immediately following a heart attack and depends completely on the physical fitness of the patient prior to the event. While still in the hospital, the patient will walk with nurse supervision. Once released, the patient will participate in a 4- to 6-week program, coming into the hospital for aerobic sessions.

According to Ghani, starting an exercise regimen right away not only helps patients form good habits but also helps them identify their limits so they won’t be nervous once they’re on their own.

“It deals with their anxiety, stress and depression,” he said. “We encourage almost everyone to take part.”

The hospital offers smoking cessation help as well.

3. Comply with doctors’ orders regarding medication and follow-up.

This is the most difficult aspect of treatment and recovery for many patients, Ghani said. Most people go from taking zero medications to taking four or five, and when the body doesn’t take to them immediately, patients simply stop taking the medications. He urges patients to call before doing so to come up with a treatment plan that is easier to follow.

Indeed, communication with the doctor is important for any cardiac patient. After being released from the hospital, most patients should see a doctor after one week, three months, and then every four to six months from then on. Doing so may help prevent another heart attack and prolong a patient’s life.

This advice is similar to what Ghani tells patients who are in immediate danger of having a heart attack. It can be tough to change the mind of the patient in denial, but proactive prevention is always preferable, he said.

“[This advice is] pretty standard, but it becomes more rigid once you have a heart attack,” he said.