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Living with heart disease

Being diagnosed with heart disease can be a difficult time for you and your family. Your road to recovery may be filled with successes, obstacles and pitfalls. Knowing what to expect along the way will help you better deal with the challenges that lie ahead.

At the hospital
When you first arrive at the hospital, you may be admitted to an Intensive Care Unit, and then later moved to a hospital ward. If you had a heart attack, your heart may have experienced some damage. Your recovery time will depend on how much damage your heart experienced, the tests that you need, your physical and emotional health, and your support system including family, friends and caregivers.

At the hospital, your healthcare team will encourage you to regain your independence by washing and dressing yourself, sitting up in a chair, taking walks in the hall and going up and down stairs. These activities will be spread out through the day and increased slowly until you are ready to go home.

Cardiac rehabilitation
Before you leave the hospital or possibly while you are still in the hospital, you may be referred to a cardiac rehabilitation program, which usually includes exercise, education and counselling designed to help you live a healthier life and reduce your risk of having heart problems in the future.

Going home
When you get home, don't be surprised if you feel more tired than usual. Your body is still healing so it is important to have plenty of rest and ask for help when you need it. It is okay if you cannot do everything yourself.

Whether you are employed, retired or a homemaker, you will probably need to take time off.  Ask family members, friends and neighbours to help you shop, cook and clean the house. Although it is normal to tire easily in the first few weeks of recovery, watch for anything out of the ordinary and call your doctor if you:

  • Experience angina with less activity or when resting.
  • Wake up at night with angina.
  • Have more frequent or more severe bouts of angina.
  • Have to take a nitrate dose (nitroglycerin) more often, or if you find you need more of it because it does not work as quickly as it used to. 
  • Are short of breath.
  • Notice your ankles or legs are swollen.
  • Feel lightheaded, have fainted or have a racing or pounding heart.
  • Gain 2.3 kg (5.06 lbs) or more in a week.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has plenty of helpful information and advice for people who have survived heart disease, their families and their caregivers.

Resuming activities
Cardiac rehabilitation (cardiac rehab)
End-of-life (palliative care)

Living well with heart disease: a guide for people with coronary artery diseaseRead our brochure Living well with heart disease: a guide for people with coronary artery disease. This book is a comprehensive guide for heart patients like you, your family and friends to improve your success of recovery, understand the diagnosis and treatment you will receive and make healthy changes to your lifestyle. It is Canadian, current and has been approved by Heart and Stroke Foundation medical experts. You can also order the booklet online.

Last modified: January 2015
Last reviewed: August 2011