A heart attack can be a major and unexpected disruption to anyone’s life. While certain lifestyle choices or genetic predispositions can make our level of risk easier to assess, anyone can suffer a heart attack. Despite this, few people think of this as something to consider, and there is a lack of information regarding the realities of surviving a heart attack. In this blog, we will look at the role physiotherapy plays in heart attack recovery.
What causes a heart attack?
Although most people have a rudimentary understanding of what causes heart attacks, the specifics are not always understood. The primary cause of heart attacks is coronary heart disease, which is when at least one of the coronary arteries, which carry the blood into your heart, becomes blocked. This makes it harder for blood to enter the heart, move around the body, and deliver oxygen to our organs. Cholesterol builds up over many years to form what are known as plaques. If these burst, they spill cholesterol and other harmful substances to enter the bloodstream. A blood clot forms, and may induce a heart attack if large enough.
Smoking, poor diet, other blood problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes, family history, and lack of exercise are all major risk factors that determine the build-up of plaque and likelihood of suffering a heart attack.
After a heart attack, the survivor will need to undergo major lifestyle changes. The patient will work with their physiotherapist to identify the risk factors and changes necessary to reduce the risk of another heart attack.
Along with changes to diet, having a tailored exercise routine is one of the most important factors in heart attack recovery. Depending on the severity of the attack, the patient will spend several weeks resting, with minimal physical exercise. When the patient and their physiotherapist feel that the time to begin a recovery regime has come, the physiotherapist will most likely suggest starting out with short walks, and climbing/descending the stairs.
In time, more strenuous exercises will gradually be introduced. Most heart attack recovery exercises are aerobic, which are those aimed specifically at strengthening the heart. Walking, cycling, swimming, and running are all examples of aerobic exercise. The exact exercises chosen will vary on a case by case basis, although these are the most common exercises used. Much of the regime will also aim to strengthen the leg muscles also, to help improve patient mobility and independence.
In the majority of cases, a person who has suffered their first heart attack will return to work, usually within 3 months of the attack. This will of course depend not only on the severity of the attack and success of the patient’s recovery, but also on their line of work. If their job is physically demanding, it will take longer. But with determination and working closely with a physiotherapist, the majority of heart attack survivors can go on to live normal lives, as long as they continue to monitor their risk factors and recognise the importance of physiotherapy.