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The road to good health after a heart disease diagnosis

A smiling woman sits with her hands cupping her face.

Controlling weight, blood pressure and cholesterol through diet, exercise and medications is one of the many healthy ways to deal with heart disease.

A diagnosis of heart disease can be life-changing—in a good way.

True, heart disease is a major cause of death in the U.S for both men and women. But you’re not powerless against it. There are many ways to get back on the road to good health.

A great way to start is to take control of risk factors that contribute to heart disease in the first place. By taking such steps, you can live longer and enjoy an improved quality of life.

Here are some things to try:

If you smoke, now is the time to stop. Smoking greatly increases your risk of dying from heart disease. By quitting smoking, you can quickly begin to reverse some of the damage the habit has done to your heart.

According to the American Lung Association, two weeks to three months after quitting smoking, your risk of having a heart attack begins to drop. After a year, excess risk of coronary heart disease drops to half that of a smoker's. After 15 years, the risk is similar to that faced by people who have never smoked.

If you’re having trouble quitting, your doctor can help.

Look for more information about quitting in the Smoking health topic center.

Control your weight. If you are carrying too many pounds, losing weight can help lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels. Admittedly, getting a handle on your weight can be a big challenge, but it can be done.

For most people, the weight-loss prescription involves a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products, as well as regular physical activity.

Ask your doctor how much and what types of exercise you should do.

For more weight-loss information, visit the Weight Management health topic center.

Know your numbers. High blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels are two major contributors to heart disease. Get both checked regularly. If your numbers are out of line, talk to your doctor about diet, exercise and medications that can help.

Join a cardiac rehabilitation program. Cardiac rehab is for people who are recovering from heart surgery or were recently diagnosed with heart disease. Rehab programs can help you change your lifestyle habits. You’ll learn about heart-healthy nutrition, take part in supervised exercise and improve your fitness level. You’ll also be given a treatment plan tailored just for you.

It’s important to work with your healthcare team to control heart disease and to closely follow the treatment plan they prescribe. If you’re having trouble with any medications or lifestyle changes, let your doctor know.

Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack

Having heart disease puts you at an increased risk for a heart attack. So it’s important to learn the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and take immediate action if one occurs.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Chest discomfort. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes. It can also go away and come back.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

Other signs and symptoms may include nausea, light-headedness or breaking out in a cold sweat.

If you experience any of these, call 911. The sooner you get medical help, the more likely you are to recover. Prompt care can save your heart from severe damage.

Reviewed 11/23/2022

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