Heart Attack Prevention Programs

By Spader, Catherine, RN

Many people think they won’t have a heart attack, but heart attacks happen more often than you might think. Heart attack affects someone in the United States every 25 seconds and causes a death every minute (Source: AHA). You can help prevent a heart attack by participating in a heart attack prevention program. Heart attack prevention programs take a no-nonsense approach to decreasing your risk of heart attack.

What Puts Me at Risk for a Heart Attack?

A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, is most commonly caused by a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the heart muscle. A clot is most likely to form when fatty plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle. The plaque buildup is called atherosclerosis and its negative effect on your arteries and blood flow is called coronary heart disease, or CHD.

Some things that increase your risk for a heart attack are not controllable, such as family history of heart disease and heart attack. The good news is that you can do something about coronary heart disease and other risk factors for a heart attack. Risk factors include:

  • Smoking

  • Poor eating habits, such as eating foods high in saturated fats, sugar, and processed carbohydrates

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Overweight or obesity

  • Excessive alcohol use

  • Not taking good care of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure

What Are the Elements of a Heart Attack Prevention Program?

A heart attack prevention program helps you address the risks of heart attack that you can control. The sooner you start a heart attack prevention program, the less likely it is that you will have a heart attack.

Your doctor can design a program, or you can ask for a referral to a local cardiovascular disease prevention program in your area. Some hospitals offer such formalized programs that provide many support services under one roof. Whether you work with your doctor or enroll in a hospital program, you can expect that you will get a complete evaluation of your cardiac risk factors, a personalized plan, and support services (or referrals to services) that help you lead a heart-healthy life. Programs help you to:

  • Kick the habit. Quitting smoking is a tough challenge. You shouldn’t give up, even if you have to try several times to quit. Your doctor will recommend the most effective types of smoking cessation programs and medications for you.

  • Eat for your heart. A prevention program will most likely involve one or more sessions with a nutritionist or dietician to help you get on track. Indulge in heart-healthy foods by choosing as many fresh foods as possible and limiting processed foods that are high in sugar, salt (sodium), and saturated and trans fats.

  • Ramp it up. An exercise physiologist or cardiac rehabilitation expert will give you tips and strategies for exercise. Try to get about 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week

  • Trim your waistline. Ask your doctor what an ideal weight is for you. If you need to lose weight, ask for advice on a good weight-loss plan.

  • Moderate alcohol. Indulging in more than one alcoholic drink per day for women or two per day for men increases your risk of a heart attack. If you’re thirsty when you get home, have tonic water or club soda with a twist of lime or lemon to quench your thirst.

  • Take care of yourself. Manage conditions that increase your risk of heart attack. See your doctor as advised and follow instructions to control angina, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

  • Manage stress. Chronic stress contributes to poor health. Some prevention programs include counseling sessions for advice and concrete strategies for keeping stress at bay, or to cope with anxiety if you’ve already had a heart attack.

For some people, taking a low dose of aspirin every day or every other day may help prevent a heart attack. Aspirin therapy experts advise you to contact your doctor before taking aspirin for your heart. Even low doses can cause serious side effects in some people.

How Will I Benefit from a Heart Attack Prevention Program?

You will benefit from a heart attack prevention plan in many ways. You’ll learn to make healthy choices in your everyday life in order to prevent a first or second heart attack. The added benefit is that these same lifestyle changes will also lower your risk of other serious diseases, such as stroke and some types of cancer. With a healthy new attitude and daily habits, you will look and feel healthier and younger, achieve a smaller waistline, and improve your energy level.

Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD; Copyright: © Copyright 2012 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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