Experiencing a heart attack is a life-altering event. It’s normal to be afraid of having a second cardiac incident and to be overwhelmed by the large amount of medical information and instructions you received from your doctor.

Being aware of what you should and shouldn’t do is a great place to start your post-heart attack life. Here are a few questions to ask your doctor as you start your journey toward a full recovery.

How should I handle my emotional ups and downs?

In the flurry of information you received after your heart attack, you or your doctor may have overlooked the emotional aspects of your illness.

It’s normal and expected to experience a wide range of emotions. Perhaps you’re afraid, depressed, scared, angry, or confused. The important thing is to recognize, understand, and manage your emotions so that they don’t negatively impact your recovery and increase your risk of a second heart attack. Talk to your doctor and/or a mental health care provider about your feelings so they can get you back on track.

Should I join a support group as part of my recovery?

Mental health, social interactions, and participation in routine activities play a large role in post-heart attack recovery and quality of life.

If you’re recovering from a heart attack and trying to make heart-healthy lifestyle changes, it’s important to avoid isolation. Connecting to family, friends, and support groups not only helps put you in touch with people in similar situations, but it leads to better health outcomes. Ask your doctor if they recommend any specific support groups they can point you to.

What kind of discomfort is a warning sign and shouldn’t be ignored?

Given that you’ve already experienced a heart attack, you’re probably more aware of the symptoms and warning signs. Nevertheless, you should call 911 or visit the hospital emergency room right away if you experience any of the following:

  • discomfort in your chest, one or both arms, back, neck, or jaw
  • shortness of breath
  • cold sweats
  • nausea
  • lightheadedness

Should I make changes in my lifestyle habits?

If you’re a smoker, make a commitment and a plan to quit. Tobacco is a major risk for heart disease.

There’s little room in a heart-healthy diet for artery-clogging foods such as saturated and trans fats, high-fat dairy products, and processed foods. Replace those with more fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Eating healthier may also require making changes to your environment, such as eating out less frequently and keeping healthy snacks on hand for when the munchies hit.

Find a fitness routine you enjoy and stick with it. Regular cardiovascular exercise does a body good. Even just exercising 30 minutes per day can lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, relieve stress, and boost your energy level.

How should I determine a healthy weight for me?

You can calculate your body mass index (BMI) using the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s . Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to calculate excess body fat.

Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease — and another heart attack. While losing weight takes time, energy, and commitment, it’s well worth the effort. If you’re having trouble, your doctor may be able to recommend a weight loss program or treatment plan.

When should I return to work?

Depending on the severity of your heart attack and the nature of your job duties, your doctor may allow you to resume your normal work routine anywhere from two weeks to three months later.

By adhering to strict recovery regime, you can — and should — return to your normal routine before you know it.

Should I say goodbye to sex?

You’re probably wondering how your heart attack will impact your sex life, or if you can ever have sex again at all. According to the , most people can continue their same pattern of sexual activity a few weeks after recovery.

Don’t be shy about starting a conversation with your doctor to figure out when it’s safe for you.

What health markers should I monitor?

Keep an eye on your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and your BMI. If you have diabetes, make sure to adhere to your medications and monitor your blood sugar levels closely. Keeping those numbers within a healthy range can greatly improve your heart health and reduce your risk for heart disease and a second heart attack.

The takeaway

You can still do many of the same things you did before your heart attack now that you’re in recovery. But you may also need to make some changes to your diet, exercise routine, and smoking habits. Discussing your concerns with your doctor can help you understand your limits and ultimately get you back on track in no time.