When you're recovering from a heart attack, the first thing to do is to work with your doctor to understand why it happened. The next thing is to take steps to prevent it from happening again. Here are some ways to get started:

1. Get Regular Check Ups

Routine visits with your doctor for physical exams and lab tests are essential. If you have high blood pressure, high blood fats (triglycerides), high cholesterol and/or diabetes, lab test results are the best way to monitor these conditions so you can take further steps, if necessary, to keep them under control.

2. Take Your Meds

Medication may be the only way to control blood pressure and blood fat levels. Make sure you understand why you are taking specific meds, and take them as instructed, in the amount prescribed by your doctor. If you experience side effects, contact your doctor before you lower the dose or discontinue taking any prescribed medication; suddenly stopping some medications can be dangerous.

3. Embrace Change

Unhealthy habits such as smoking, overeating, and lack of exercise contribute to heart disease and increase the risk of another heart attack. Your physician can refer you to a cardiac rehabilitation program that can help you recover from a heart attack or heart surgery and prevent future problems by addressing the lifestyle factors that contribute to coronary heart disease. A team of specialistsóphysicians, nurses, dietitians, physical therapists, mental health professionals, and other health care providersówill address your individual needs. The team will provide you with tools and support to help you quit smoking, improve your diet, lose weight, reduce stress, exercise safely, and cope with both your illness and the lifestyle changes you must make to improve your health and your quality of life.

4. Maintain Intimate Relationships.

"After a heart attack, patients are often afraid that sexual activity will lead to another heart attack," says cardiologist William Tansey III, MD. "But for both men and women, intimate relations play an important role in the recovery of self-esteem." In fact, health care professionals such as primary care physicians, heart specialists and nurses have been encouraged by the American Heart Association to counsel patients on when and how to resume sexual activity. So, don't be afraid to ask for advice!

5. Stay Positive

A bout of depression is common after a heart attack, even among those who never previously suffered from depression. In fact, according to experts at the National Institutes of Health, if you have heart disease, you are more likely to suffer from depression than someone who is otherwise healthy. This is important to know because depression can increase your risk of death after a heart attack. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder often linked to exposure to events such as war, rape, and natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, can also develop after a heart attack. If you experience symptoms of anxiety or depression, such as fear, feelings of deep sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness, fatigue, or thoughts of death or suicide, speak with your doctor immediately about a referral for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

William Tansey III, MD, reviewed this article.

Sources

"Physicians Should Counsel Patients About Sex Life After Cardiac Event: A Consensus Document From the AHA and the European Society of Cardiology Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Allied Professions 29 Jul 2013." American Heart Association.

"Life After a Heart Attack." National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Accessed 28 Mar 2014.

"Depression and Heart Disease." National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed May 12, 2014.