Heart Attack Recovery & Cardiac Rehabilitation


What you can expect when you return home

Returning home after a heart attack can be frightening. This section talks about early recovery, including: activity, feelings, diet, and sexual activity.

Keep in mind it may take about two months for your heart to heal.


The first week you return home, you may feel tired or weak. This is because of the damage to your heart muscle and the bed rest you had in the hospital.

For the first few weeks:

  • Get dressed each morning. You should be able to take care of all your personal hygiene (bathing, shaving, and dressing).
  • Pace yourself. Spread your activities throughout the day. If you become tired, rest and schedule unfinished activities for another day.
  • You may climb stairs at home as part of your daily activity, unless your doctor told you not to. Try to arrange your activities so that you do not have to climb up and down stairs several times during the day.
  • Walk every day as prescribed by your doctor. A regular walking program is a good way to regain your energy. Ask your doctor about the right amount of exercise for you.
  • When you feel stronger, you may return to light household chores, such as folding clothes, cooking, light gardening, dusting and washing dishes.
  • Do not lift, push or pull very heavy objects until your doctor tells you that you may resume these activities.
  • Your doctor will advise you as to when you can return to work, drive a car and begin more vigorous activities

Feelings after a heart attack

About one fourth of patients after a heart attack feel depressed, angry and afraid. These are normal responses that usually go away with time, as you get back to your regular activities. To help relieve the emotional blues:

  • Get up and get dressed every day. Do not stay in bed all day
  • Get out and walk daily. Daily activity will help you have a healthy mind and body.
  • Resume hobbies and social activities you enjoy.
  • Share your feelings with your family, a friend, a clergyman, or support group
  • Get a good night's sleep. Lack of sleep can cause you to feel tired or irritable. Be careful not to nap too much during the day, or you will not be able to sleep at night.
  • Limit visits with friends and family at first, to avoid feeling over-tired. Increase them depending on how you feel. With time, these visits can be helpful to lift your spirits.
  • Join a cardiac rehabilitation program – emotional support is just one benefit to a guided activity & education program.

If you have questions, ask your health care team! You can avoid much stress for yourself and your family if you know about your heart disease and what you can and cannot do.

If you do not feel like your emotions are improving or you are concerned about feeling of depressed call your doctor. Medications and counseling is available to help you through this time.


Eating a heart healthy diet is very important to prevent future complications of heart disease. Six strategies to reduce coronary artery disease include:

  • Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes
  • Choose fat calories wisely
  • Eat a variety, and just the right amount of protein foods
  • Limit dietary cholesterol
  • Use complex carbohydrates for energy, and limit the intake of simple carbohydrates
  • Place less emphasis on sodium and increase your intake of potassium, magnesium and calcium

Sexual activity

Sexual activity can usually be resumed shortly after leaving the hospital. The amount of energy it requires to perform intercourse with a spouse or regular partner is similar to climbing about one or two flights of stairs or walking about one-half mile (0.8 km) at a brisk pace. If you cannot perform these activities without getting angina, short of breath, or becoming over-tired, please discuss this with your doctor before resuming sexual activity.

Keep in mind that a sexual relationship has both physical and emotional aspects

  • Talk openly with your partner
  • Have sex when you are rested and physically comfortable
  • Be caring, honest and loving with each other
  • Anxiety on the part of either partner, as well as some medications, may interfere with sexual arousal and performance. So discuss any difficulties with your doctor

Management and Treatment

What should you do if you have angina?

Angina can be described as discomfort, pressure, heaviness or pain in the chest, back, jaw, throat or arm, or as a fullness, indigestion or choking feeling. Symptoms vary from person to person, but they are usually consistent for each individual.

Treat angina symptoms quickly

If angina occurs:

  • Stop your activity. Sit down and rest.
  • If you have nitroglycerin, place 1 nitroglycerin tablet under your tongue and let it dissolve, or spray the nitroglycerin under your tongue.
  • Wait 5 minutes.
  • If you are still experiencing angina after 5 minutes, call 9-1-1 to get emergency help. DO NOT DELAY.
  • Due to the possible benefits of taking an aspirin early on during a heart attack, emergency personnel may tell you to chew an aspirin if there is no medical reason for you to avoid aspirin.
  • Do not drive yourself to the hospital. In many cases, the emergency personnel can begin to give you heart-saving care right away.
  • To prevent damage to your heart muscle, do not delay seeking medical treatment.

Remember, if prescribed, carry your nitroglycerin with you at all times.

  • Nitroglycerin comes in tablet or spray forms.
  • Nitroglycerin must be kept in a dark container.
  • Keep it away from heat or moisture.
  • Check the expiration date on the container.
  • Once the container of nitroglycerin is opened, it must be replaced every six months

The following links can provide you with more information:


How you can prevent heart attack from occurring in the future

The goal after your heart attack is to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risks, to prevent future damage to your heart.

Take your medications

Medications are prescribed after a heart attack to

  • Prevent future blood clots
  • Lessen the work of your heart and improve your heart's performance and recovery
  • Lower cholesterol

Other medications may be prescribed if needed. These include medications to treat irregular heartbeats, lower blood pressure, control angina (chest discomfort) and treat heart failure.

Check the drug search to find out about your medications.

It is important to know:

  • The names of your medications
  • What they are for
  • How often and at what times to take them

Your doctor or nurse should review your medications with you. Keep a list of your medications and bring them to each of your doctor visits. If you have questions about your medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Change your lifestyle

There is no single cure for coronary artery disease. In order to prevent the progression of this disease, you must follow your doctor's advice and make necessary lifestyle changes:

Stop Smoking

Smoking is directly related to an increased risk of heart attack and its complications. This is one of the most important reversible risk factors for coronary artery disease.

Lower blood cholesterol

Statins are medications that lower cholesterol and are indicated in all patients who have had a heart attack. It is also important to make dietary changes to help further control your cholesterol levels. A high-fat diet can contribute to increased fat in your blood. Follow a low-fat, low-cholesterol eating plan. A registered dietitian is a good source for dietary information.

Control high blood pressure

High blood pressure can damage the lining of your coronary arteries and lead to coronary artery disease. A healthy diet, exercise, medications and controlling sodium in your diet can help control high blood pressure.

Maintain tight diabetes control

High blood sugars are linked to the progression of coronary artery disease. If you have diabetes, it is important to control high blood sugar through diet, exercise, and medications. There are new diabetes medications (including SGLT2 inhibitors and GLP-1-R agonists) that have been shown to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. Discuss these with your cardiologist or endocrinologist.

Follow a regular exercise plan

A regular exercise program helps to regain or maintain your energy level, lower cholesterol, manage weight, control diabetes and relieve stress. Check with your doctor first before beginning an exercise program. Starting a cardiac rehabilitation program, and completing as many sessions as possible has been shown to reduce risk of another heart attack and prolong your survival. All patients should enroll in a phase II cardiac rehabilitation program after a heart attack. It is important that you discuss this with your doctor to ensure that a program is available to you (see below).

Achieve and maintain your ideal body weight

Obesity is defined as having a body-mass index greater than 30 kg/m2 . When you have excess weight, your heart has to do more work to pump blood to the rest of your body, and you are at increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes. A healthy diet and exercise program aimed at weight loss can help improve your health.

Control Stress and Anger

Uncontrolled stress or anger is linked to increased coronary artery disease risk. You may need to learn skills such as time management, relaxation, meditation, or yoga to help lower your stress levels.

Cardiac Rehabilitation

After a heart attack, a cardiac rehabilitation program provides a medically supervised setting to help you recover from your heart attack, learn about your heart disease, and learn strategies to change your lifestyle to prevent further progression of your disease. Starting a cardiac rehabilitation program, and completing as many sessions as possible has been shown to reduce risk of another heart attack or death by as much as 30% in just five years. This makes it one of the most important interventions you can pursue after a heart attack. Your primary care doctor or cardiologist can give you information about programs in your local area (cardiac rehabilitation is covered by most insurance companies) or you may go to the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation* website to search for a program, or call the Cardiac Prevention and Rehabilitation program at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation 216.444.9353.

Living With

See your doctor for regular heart checkups

Make a doctor's appointment four to six weeks after you leave the hospital. Your doctor will want to check the progress of your recovery.

Your doctor may ask you to undergo diagnostic tests (such as exercise tests) at regular intervals. These tests can help the doctor to diagnose the presence or progression of blockages in your coronary arteries and to plan treatment.

Call your doctor sooner if you have symptoms:

  • Angina that becomes more frequent, increases in intensity, lasts longer, or spreads to other areas
  • Shortness of breath, especially at rest
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeats


Doctors vary in quality due to differences in training and experience; hospitals differ in the number of services available. The more complex your medical problem, the greater these differences in quality become and the more they matter.

Clearly, the doctor and hospital that you choose for complex, specialized medical care will have a direct impact on how well you do. To help you make this choice, please review our Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Outcomes.

Cleveland Clinic Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Cardiologists and Surgeons

Choosing a doctor to treat your coronary artery disease depends on where you are in your diagnosis and treatment.

Click on the following links to learn more about Sections and Departments treat patients with Coronary Artery Disease:

The Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute offers specialty centers and clinics for patients whose treatment requires the expertise of a group of doctors and surgeons who focus on a specific condition.

See About Us to learn more about the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute.


If you need more information, click here to contact us, chat online with a nurse or call the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Resource & Information Nurse at 216.445.9288 or toll-free at 866.289.6911. We would be happy to help you.

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Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/29/2019.

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