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Heart attack or surgery recovery steps

Heart attack or surgery recovery steps

It can take months for your heart to heal from the damage caused by a heart attack or other heart problem. Your doctor will talk to you about steps you can take to help you recover, including making healthy changes and joining a cardiac rehabilitation program. This can also lower your chances of having another heart attack or heart problem.

Step 1: Set goals for your recovery.

Your goals for heart attack or heart surgery recovery depend on how badly your heart was damaged. Work with your doctor to set short- and long-term goals for your recovery:

  • Short-term goals may include resting until your heart heals. Your doctor may also have you add physical activity (like a walk around the room or the hospital floor) to help build your strength.
  • Long-term goals include making healthy changes to your eating and physical activity habits at home and controlling your risk factors for heart disease. Plan to see your doctor regularly to check up on your progress.

Step 2: Talk to your doctor about cardiac rehabilitation.

Cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) is a medically supervised program to help you recover from a heart attack or heart surgery. Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans must cover cardiac rehab programs, although you will need to pay your usual copay or coinsurance, and meet your deductible. Cardiac rehabilitation also helps lower your chances of having another heart attack or heart problem.

Studies show that women may do worse than men after a heart attack.1 Women may also be more likely than men to feel stress, depression, or anxiety after a heart attack.2 This can make it harder for your heart to heal. People who take part in cardiac rehab programs may improve their heart health and lower their chances of a future heart problem.3 However, women, especially older women and minority women, may be less likely than men to join or complete a cardiac rehabilitation program.4,5

During cardiac rehabilitation, you will do exercises to improve your heart health and will learn about healthy changes you can make at home, such as making heart-healthy eating choices. You may also get brief counseling for stress and to help control other health problems that raise your risk for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Cardiac rehabilitation can be expensive, but the Affordable Care Act requires that most insurance plans, including Medicare Part B, cover most or all of the cost of cardiac rehabilitation programs.

Learn more about cardiac rehabilitation.

Step 3: Take steps at home to prevent another heart problem.

Once you've had a heart attack, you are at high risk of having another heart attack. As you recover from your heart attack or other heart problem, take steps to prevent it from happening again:

  • Control your risk factors for heart disease. Continue the healthy habits you learned in cardiac rehabilitation at home, including quitting smokinggetting regular physical activity, making healthier eating choices, and taking care of your mental health.
  • Work with your doctor on your treatment plan. This may include taking medicine to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol and seeing your doctor regularly to check on your progress.

Learn more about ways to prevent another heart attack or heart problem.

Did we answer your question about recovering from a heart attack or surgery?

For more information about recovering from a heart attack or surgery, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:


  1. American Heart Association. (2013). Older Americans and Cardiovascular Diseases.
  2. Xu, X., Bao, H., Strait, K., Spertus, J.A., Lichtman, J.H., D'Onofrio, G. …Krumholz, H.M. (2015). Sex Differences in Perceived Stress and Early Recovery in Young and Middle-Aged Patients with Acute Myocardial Infarction. Circulation; 131: 614-623.
  3. Beckie, T.M., Beckstead, J.W. (2010). The Effects of a Cardiac Rehabilitation Program Tailored for Women on Global Quality of Life: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Women's Health; 19(11): 1977–1985.
  4. Leon, A.S., Franklin, B.A., Costa, F. (2005). Cardiac rehabilitation and secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. Circulation; 111: 369-376.
  5. Sandesara, P.B., Lambert, C.T., Gordon, N.F., Fletcher, G.F., Franklin, B.A., Wenger, N.K., Sperling, L. (2015). Cardiac Rehabilitation and Risk Reduction. Time to "Rebrand and Reinvigorate". Journal of the American College of Cardiology; 65(4):389-395.