Despite continued progress in healthcare, cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the leading cause of death globally. According to statistics, in 2019, an estimated 15.2 million people died due to heart attack, and the mortality rate seems to be trending upward. Poor diet and unhealthy habits causes obesity and type-2 diabetes mellitus, the main factors for CVD morbidity and mortality.
It is normal to feel scared, lost and overwhelmed after a heart attack, as it is a life-changing event. But adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle, taking the prescribed medications religiously, stopping tobacco use, and enrolling in cardiac rehabilitation helps in post-heart attack recovery. Out of these, foods play a crucial role in post-heart attack care. Post heart attack meal patterns focus on a high protan, moderate carbs, low fat, high fibre foods.
Heart Attack: Everything You Should Know
A heart attack is a severe medical emergency in which there is a sudden blockage of blood supply to the heart. When a part of your heart muscle does not receive adequate blood, it experiences some damage, which can be life-threatening. The higher the time that passes without restoring blood flow to the heart, the greater the damage to the heart muscle. Then, scar tissue replaces the healthy heart tissue whose damage may not be apparent, but it may cause long-lasting problems.
The Possible Causes of a Heart Attack
There are two leading causes of heart attack- Coronary Heart Disease and Coronary Artery Spasm. However, both mechanisms are the same; they block the blood supply to the heart. The former cause is plaque deposition on the walls of arteries. Moreover, the latter reason is the constriction of the arteries.
Coronary Heart Disease
Coronary Heart Disease(CHD) is the leading cause of heart attacks. It is a condition in which the inner walls of the blood vessels supply oxygen to the heart block due to the deposition of cholesterol, known as plaques. This blockage prevents blood from flowing to the heart. Before a heart attack, one of the plaques bursts, causing a blood clot to develop at the rupture site. This clot may block the blood supply to the heart, triggering a heart attack.
Your risk of developing CHD is increased by:
High Blood Pressure
Persistent high blood pressure puts an extra strain on your arteries and heart, which causes the coronary arteries serving the heart to narrow from a buildup of fat and cholesterol slowly. It further hardens the arteries, and the blood clots become more likely to form. The blockage due to an accumulation of plaque or a blood clot interrupts the blood flow through the heart muscle, resulting in heart muscles starved of oxygen and nutrients, causing a heart attack.
Smoking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. It is due to smoking contaminates your blood with chemicals that cause the blood to thicken and form clots inside veins and arteries. Blockage from these clots leads to a heart attack and sudden death.
High cholesterol can lead to a condition called Atherosclerosis, in which a plaque of build up fats and cholesterol can cause narrowing of the arteries which can cause less or no blood flow to the heart. As we are aware, there are two main types of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. The second is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. Excess bad cholesterol can be harmful because it sticks to the inside walls of the arteries, which makes it challenging for blood to flow through, which can lead to a heart attack or a stroke.
Binge drinking causes a transient increase in blood pressure that strains your blood vessels, eventually leading to a heart attack. Chronic consumption of alcohol also leads to obesity which further increases the risk of a heart attack.
High blood sugar harms the blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart. In addition, according to a study, people with diabetes are more likely to have other conditions that raise the risk for heart attack. These include high blood pressure, having too much bad cholesterol in your bloodstream, and high triglycerides as they contribute to the hardening of the arteries.
Coronary Heart Spasm
A coronary Heart Spasm is a severe tightening of a coronary artery that cuts blood flow through the arteries. A spasm can be related to certain drugs, emotional stress, exposure to extreme cold and cigarette smoking. However, it is a less common cause of heart attack.
Post Heart Attack Care
Experiencing confusion, uncertainty and fear of having another attack is quite common following a heart attack. But many people survive them and lead active and happy lives. Consider having a heart attack as a wake-up call to make specific lifestyle and dietary changes. Post heart attack care can limit damage to your heart muscle and improve your chances of better life quality. However, the time it takes to recover from a heart attack depends on the amount of damage to your heart muscle.
The recovery process reduces your risk of another heart attack. These include a combination of lifestyle changes and medicines, and cardiac rehabilitation. In addition, they gradually restore your physical fitness so you can resume normal activities.
After a heart attack, it is essential to manage risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Dietary change after a heart attack plays a pivotal role in minimising fats, cholesterol and salt in the body.
In addition, it helps slow down disease progression and prevent repeated occurrence. Choose nutrient-rich foods with vitamins, minerals, fibre, and other nutrients but are lower in calories than nutrient-poor foods that provide short-term gratification. Make consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, poultry, fish, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and nuts a priority. Limit intake of sweets, sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, and red meats.
A lack of committing to a heart-healthy lifestyle is one of the significant contributors to the statistics of heart attack mortality. Your lifestyle is your best defence against any heart disease. It is challenging to adopt a new lifestyle after a traumatic event such as a heart attack. Still, it can help you work towards a healthier way of living.
Lifestyle habits like eating nutritious meals on time, including 45 mins to 1 hour of daily activity as per doctor’s advice, having a good sleep schedule and hygiene, drinking enough water and including activities to de-stress like deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or any recreational activity will help to recover better along with preventing further chances of heart attack.
Regular Health Checkups
Regular checkups are essential when you are recovering from a heart attack. However, you need to follow your doctors’ instructions and not skip any appointments. It helps when your doctor keeps track of your condition and recovery. Moreover, it will monitor your progress to determine how soon you can return to your normal activities.
Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program outlined to help you recover after a heart attack. It aims to provide people who suffered from a heart attack with to help recover by outlining an individualised plan. It also improves physical health and identifies and manages other risk factors. Cardiac rehabilitation can help prevent another heart attack and can help you build heart-healthy habits.
Best Foods for Heart Attack Patients
According to a review, consuming legumes reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks. Legumes are a powerhouse of protein and fibre. They lower blood pressure and promote weight loss due to their low calorie and high nutrient density. Moreover, they reduce mortality due to heart attacks. Add legumes such as beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas to your diet to minimise the risk for coronary heart disease and heart attacks.
Whole grains have fibre-rich bran, starchy endosperm, and the germ, packed with vitamins and minerals, making it a complete package of nutrients. As a result, they help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart attacks. In addition, fibre plays a role in preventing the formation of small blood clots that can trigger heart attacks. A study followed men and women for more than a decade following heart attacks and found the more fibre from cereal grains they ate, the longer they survived. You may eat oats, brown rice, high fibre cereals and wholemeal pasta.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Vegetables and fruits are rich sources of vitamins and minerals which seems to help lower blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure and enhance blood vessel function. The research concluded that consuming fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables and vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables, protects against coronary heart disease. Include guava, lemon, orange, strawberry, kiwi, broccoli, bell peppers, and other green leafy vegetables in your diet for their incredible benefits.
Fruits and vegetables have various antioxidants like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), α-tocopherol (vitamin E), folate, β-carotene, ubiquinone (coenzyme Q10), bioflavonoids which are important in reducing the risk of Coronary Heart Disease
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are good sources of essential omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids which keeps the heart healthy. They are also rich in Vitamin E, magnesium and fibres which keeps the functioning of heart in check. It is associated with reduced cardiovascular risk factors. The unsaturated fats in nuts reduce bad cholesterol (LDL-C) levels and lower heart attack associated mortality in patients. In addition, it protects against various heart diseases by decreasing oxidative stress and inflammation. A study revealed that consumption of peanuts, tree nuts and walnuts was associated with a 15–23% lower risk of coronary heart disease.
Lean meats and fresh water fishes provide good proteins to recover faster by aiding in new cell formations. Also, fish oils have omega 3 fatty acids which are heart protective. In addition, lean meat has less saturated fat. Therefore, it reduces LDL cholesterol if consumed in proper amounts. It is also a fantastic source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, niacin, zinc and iron, which improve cardiovascular health. In addition, fish is an incredibly beneficial source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that reduce your risk of a heart attack. These include mackerel, salmon, Katla, and pomfret.
Olive oil is high in unsaturated fats, improving blood cholesterol levels and stabilising heart rhythms. This oil also has antioxidant properties that protect red blood cells from damage. Free radicals, however, damage your vessels and could lead to heart attacks. In addition, research suggests that olive oil consumption helps reduce the chances of cardiovascular events.
Worst Foods for Heart Attack Patients
According to a study, consuming processed foods such as soda, energy drinks, packaged snacks, candies, and frozen foods increases the risk of recurrent cardiovascular and coronary heart disease.
They have high sugar and sodium content and often lack nutrients which contribute to high blood pressure, which can up your odds of a heart attack. In addition, people with higher consumption of ultra-processed foods have a higher risk of a second heart attack which could be fatal.
Saturated and Trans Fats
Foods high in saturated fat tend to increase harmful cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are rich in animal-based foods like beef, pork, poultry, full-fat dairy products and eggs and oils like coconut and palm oil. You may substitute butter, coconut oil, and other oils that solidify at room temperature with extra virgin olive oil. Reducing saturated fat intake is associated with lowering harmful cholesterol levels and can lower the risk of heart attacks.
Fast foods such as burgers, fries, and pizzas have high amounts of saturated fats and salts, which increase obesity, diabetes and blood pressure. In addition, even weekly consumption of fast foods poses a higher likelihood of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks. It is due to the increased deposition of plaques in the walls of arteries over time. Therefore, it is best to choose whole natural foods like fruits and vegetables for the sake of your heart health.
Most manufacturers add sodium to most canned foods to preserve and enhance the flavour. However, the added sodium raises blood pressure, which boosts the risk of heart attacks. Moreover, they use Bisphenol A(BPA), an organic compound in the lining of cans, to prevent corrosion. However, these are hazardous for health and can lead to several health problems such as heart attacks and stroke. Hence, decrease your exposure to sodium and BPA to lower your chances of heart attacks.
Signs of an Unhealthy Heart
Given below are some of the signs of an unhealthy heart.
- Getting tired quickly on doing any physical activity
- Having high blood pressure
- Have trouble breathing in your sleep
- Having shortness of breath
- Having heart palpitations
If you experience these signs, don’t ignore them and visit your doctor to get a health checkup done.
The symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Pain in the jaw, neck, or back
- Tightness in chest
- Pain in arms or shoulders
- Shortness of breath
Healthy Lifestyle Habits for Heart Attack Patients
Smoking damages your coronary artery’s lining, restricting blood flow to your heart. Moreover, it makes your blood thicker, making it more likely to clot, which primes you for another heart attack. Giving up on smoking can reduce your risk of another heart attack by 50%.
Studies reveal that patients who resume the habit of smoking after a heart attack are three times more likely to die than those who quit. On the other hand, quitting smoking can reduce your risk of another heart attack by 50%. Hence, it is vital to quit smoking after you’ve had a heart attack.
Get Enough Exercise
Getting enough exercise, especially aerobic exercise, is the key for heart attack patients. Aerobic exercise is the most important for heart health as it improves circulation, which results in lowered blood pressure. In addition, it increases your overall fitness and helps your cardiac output. Aerobic fitness increases how well your body uses oxygen, depending on the heart, lungs, and muscles. You can do an activity at a moderate or vigorous level, whichever is right for you.
A research review shows that at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It also keeps your weight at a healthy level. They together contribute to keeping your heart healthy. Moderate exercise includes brisk walking and fast cycling, 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week.
Vigorous activities include jogging, fast cycling, or cross-country skiing for 25 minutes a day, at least three days a week. The goal of aerobic exercises is to increase the amount of oxygen that goes to the heart and muscles, which allows them to work longer. In addition, vigorous activities make you breathe faster and have a faster heartbeat, eventually increasing the fitness of your heart.
Getting enough exercise improves your heart health and improves your joint health, and improves metabolism. Moreover, it enhances insulin sensitivity, normalises elevated blood pressure, and decreases blood viscosity. In addition, it protects the vessels and prevents blockage due to plaques.
As we have seen earlier, diabetes can damage blood vessels that control your heart. Hence, a patient with diabetes is more likely to have a recurrent heart attack. On the other hand, management helps regulate your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Therefore, it also lowers the chances of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Excess bodyweight forces your heart to work harder to pump blood around your body, raising blood pressure and producing clots in the arteries. However, there is evidence that even modest weight loss can reduce high blood pressure. As a result, it further decreases the risk of another heart attack. In addition, having a healthy weight reduces fasting glucose, triglycerides, and total cholesterol, lowering your blood pressure, thus preventing a heart attack.
Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to obesity and is associated with increased blood pressure. It can also contribute to high fats such as triglycerides and produce irregular heartbeats. Therefore, limiting your alcohol intake or stopping drinking prevents additional heart attacks.
Develop Good Sleep Routine
Inadequate sleep alters the blood pressure and hence indirectly affects the heart. 7-8 hours of night sleep is required by the body to recover and rest.
Following good sleep hygiene should be developed for a better heart health:
- Maintain regular sleep timings..
- Avoid daytime naps.
- Switch off all the electronic devices or keep them away from bed and avoid binge watching before sleep.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks after 6 pm
- Have a quiet, comfortable bedroom with dim lighting.
You can prevent most heart attacks by addressing behavioural risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol. It is essential to address and resolve these issues on time to prevent recurrent heart attack events.
What is on your plate maintains your heart health. Therefore choosing certain heart-healthy foods and limiting those non-beneficial elements for your heart can work wonders for your long term health. A heart attack can be a new beginning for a healthy journey that will increase your life’s longevity.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Is banana good for heart attack patients?
A. Yes. Fruits like bananas are ideal for heart attack patients. They are rich in potassium and sodium, which helps maintain blood pressure. They also prevent the hardening and narrowing of arteries, lowering the chances of another heart attack.
Q. What diet do most cardiologists recommend?
A. Most cardiologists recommend a low-fat, high-fibre diet. These include whole fruits, legumes, vegetables, fatty fish, olive oil, and whole grains. These foods regulate blood cholesterol levels, maintain blood pressure and improve cardiac health.
Q. Which exercise is best for heart blockage?
A. Aerobic exercise is best for heart blockage as it improves circulation, which results in lowered blood pressure and overall aerobic fitness. These exercises increase your cardiac output and are considered best for heart attack patients. Aerobic exercises include brisk walking, running, swimming, and cycling.
Q. How long do heart attacks last?
A. Mild heart attacks last two to five minutes, whereas full heart attacks can last for 20 minutes or longer. They may go away and come back again. Sometimes they may intermittently get over several hours. Restoring the blood flow to the heart is crucial to prevent damage to the heart muscle.
Q. How do I know if my chest pain is serious?
A. Most chest pain is nothing serious. However, if the pain spreads to your arms, back, neck, or jaw and you experience chest tightness and shortness of breath, get immediate medical help. You could be having a heart attack if it lasts longer than a few minutes, especially if you are a patient with diabetes or blood pressure. Call the emergency number immediately as you need immediate treatment in the hospital.
Q. Should I worry about chest pain that comes and goes?
A. Chest pain that comes and goes could be a sign of a problem related to the heart, respiratory system, digestion or even panic attacks. However, you should see your doctor if the chest pain comes back worse and is accompanied by other symptoms. These include nausea, shortness of breath and pain in the shoulder, neck, arms, back, or jaw.
Q. Which side should you sleep on for your heart?
A. There is not much research on the effects of sleep position on your heart. If you are a heart attack patient, please consult your doctor to know the best way to sleep for your heart. Getting good quality sleep is an essential part of the recovery process. It can make a massive difference to your health.