How to Prevent a Second Heart Attack

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year about 785,000 Americans have a heart attack (also called myocardial infarction) and about 470,000 have a second heart attack. But just because you've had one heart attack, it doesn't mean that there aren't things you can do to prevent the onset of a second attack. If you've already had a heart attack, chances are your doctor has prescribed medication that helps the heart function more effectively and reduces the risk of a second attack.

Typically, during the first year after a heart attack, it may be necessary for you to take  aspirin (between 75 mg and 325 mg a day), which thins the blood, making it less "sticky" and less likely to clot. Depending on the reasons for your heart attack, your doctor may also prescribe a stronger blood thinner than aspirin, such as Plavix (clopidogrel). Some other classes of drugs your doctor may recommend include:

  • Beta blockers-This class of drugs lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, reducing demand on your heart and helping to prevent further heart attacks. It may be necessary to stay on beta-blockers indefinitely following a heart attack.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors-ACE inhibitors allow blood to flow more freely from the heart, preventing some of the complications of a heart attack and making a second heart attack less likely. They are commonly prescribed after a heart attack, especially if you have had a moderate to severe heart attack that reduced your heart's pumping capacity.
  • Cholesterol-lowering medications-There are a variety of medications, including statins, niacin, fibrates and bile acid sequestrants, that help lower blood cholesterol levels. Most people who have had a heart attack are prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs to prevent a second attack from occurring.

Lifestyle Changes

While taking medications following a heart attack are crucial in preventing future attacks, making some simple lifestyle changes can also go a long way in keeping you heart healthy:

  • Don't smoke
  • Keep your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol under control
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in animal fat
  • Eat fish at least twice a week, especially fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, and stick to broiling, baking or grilling the fish instead of frying it
  • Maintain a regular exercise routine most days of the week. Be sure to talk to your doctor before staring any exercise program
  • Maintain a healthy weight