Living with Ischaemic Heart Disease
Anxiety and depression. For many patients suffering an infarction or angina is a defining experience that usually has a significant impact on their lives. A lack of knowledge of the disease, the need to make multiple lifestyle changes, to take new medicines, or the fear of a repeat episode, amongst other concerns, are some of the factors that can generate anxiety or depression.
In this context, patients must try to transform their anxiety into the determination they need to make the lifestyle changes that will help improve their quality of life. Diet modifications, regular exercise, quitting smoking, relaxing and dedicating time to looking after yourself are all routes to a better quality of life.
Healthcare professionals and other patients who have experienced the same situation can provide useful information and advice to help you look at things with a positive attitude. Cardiac rehabilitation programmes are also a good option when it comes to resuming your life in a safe, practical manner.
Diet. Follow a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and white meat. As far as you can, minimise your consumption of pastries, cured meats, fried foods and red meats. Try to spread this habit among your friends and family, or among everybody who eats with you. A balanced diet has the added benefit of controlling other risk factors, such as overweight, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Exercise. Set aside a minimum of three hours per week (spread over several days) for exercise. The activity does not have to involve strenuous exercise, but you should notice your heart rate increase a little and your breathing becomes a bit heavier. It is better to start gently, without tiring yourself out, and then progressively increase the strain each day until you notice the desired level of effort approximately three weeks after taking up the activity.
This general rule should be adapted to each patient; ask your doctor about a suitable type of exercise and intensity level for your particular case. Exercise also improves control over other risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight or stress. Do not forget the “dose of exercise”, as some patients call them. If you experience symptoms of choking or chest pain, then you must stop practising the activity and consult your doctor before restarting it.
Stop smoking. The majority of patients quit smoking after suffering a heart attack, but 80% start again in the next few months. Quitting is undoubtedly the best thing you can do for your health. The effort and perseverance are rewarded with a greater breathing capacity, food tastes better, you no longer smell of tobacco and above all it brings a massive improvement to the health of your heart.
Control your weight. An unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle can mean you steadily gain weight as the years pass. Changing your diet and establishing an exercise routine will help manage your weight. Do not trust miracle diets; instead follow the recommendations of a professional who will ensure gradual but constant weight loss and steer you towards a lifestyle change rather than a one-off diet.
Find time to relax. It has been demonstrated that stress is a significant factor in the onset of several illnesses, but it particularly contributes to ischaemic cardiomyopathy. Relaxation techniques, meditation and finding time to look after yourself are all basic elements to help you adopt a more relaxed, positive attitude towards daily life.
Take your medication correctly. It is important to follow your prescribed medication schedule very closely. Forgetfulness or inconsistency can lead to important complications. Even if a medicine makes you feel unwell or produces unwanted secondary effects, you should not stop taking it. Discuss it with your doctor who will give you information about other drug options and adjust the treatment to your needs.
Sexuality. Many patients are afraid of resuming sexual activity after a heart attack. Nevertheless, you should not practice sex for at least one week after an acute myocardial infarction or implanting a stent. Similarly, it is recommendable to postpone sexual activity for 6 to 8 weeks after heart bypass surgery so the wound on the sternum can heal properly.
In light of any doubts about your capacity to exert yourself you should undergo an ergometric stress test. If the results of the stress test are normal, then there is very little chance of suffering a heart attack due to sexual intercourse.
Several patients can experience sexual dysfunction caused, in the majority of cases, by the poor overall condition of the blood vessels, or because of psychological effects; some medicines can also produce dysfunction. If you experience this problem, tell your doctor about it.