March 2023

Diagnosed with Heart Disease? Here’s What to Do Next

 

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with heart disease, you may feel like your whole life has changed. Learning about this condition and understanding your treatments can give you a greater sense of control. With lifestyle changes, medicine, and medical procedures, if needed, you can live a healthier life and reduce your risk for more serious issues. Here are some of the first steps you should take.

 

Learn more about heart disease. Heart disease is a general term for a variety of heart problems. But most of the time, people use it to talk about coronary heart disease (CHD)—the most common type of heart disease in the U.S. CHD occurs when a fatty material called plaque builds up inside your coronary arteries. These are blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle. Over time, plaque can harden and narrow your arteries. As a result, less blood is able to flow to your heart muscle.

Plaque can rupture too, causing a blood clot to form in the coronary artery. This can also restrict blood flow through the artery. When the amount of blood traveling to your heart is reduced, you can suffer more serious problems. One is angina, or chest pain. Another is a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when an artery becomes completely blocked and cuts off the flow of blood to an area of your heart muscle. This damages your heart, which can lead to problems such as heart rhythm irregularities, kidney disorders, peripheral arterial disease, or death.

Make key lifestyle changes. Your health care provider probably talked with you about some of the changes you’ll need to start making to protect your heart. Now is the time to make them. These include:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet. Fill up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Your diet should also include low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. Reduce or eliminate foods that can harm your heart, such as fatty meats and products with added sugars.

  • Increasing your physical activity. Talk with your health care provider before starting an exercise plan. They can let you know what level of activity is right for you.

  • Quitting smoking. Call 877-44U-QUIT (877-448-7848) for free help and support.

  • Reaching a healthy weight. If you’re overweight or obese, losing just 3 to 5% of your body weight can bring health benefits. Losing more weight can lead to even greater gains.

  • Managing stress. Try different stress-relieving activities to find what works best for you. You could try meditation, exercise, or deep breathing, or talk with a trusted friend, family member, or professional counselor.

  • Getting enough sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each day.

Understand your treatment plan. Work closely with your healthcare provider to discuss the changes you need to make. If your provider prescribes medicines, such as those to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol levels, take them as directed.

You may also find it helpful to join a patient support group for people with heart disease. In a support group, you can learn from and connect with others who are going through a similar experience.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
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