“You’ve had a heart attack.”

These five words will change your life. They are very scary and may suggest death, long-term disability, or endless pain and suffering. You must be asking yourself:

  • Can I ever recover from the trauma of this near-death experience?
  • Will I ever stop being afraid?
  • Will my life ever get back to normal?
  • Will I ever feel like a healthy person again?
  • Will I live for another year?
  • What are my chances of having another heart attack?
  • Can I ever overcome my heart disease?
  • Will I ever find someone who understands how I feel?

Women heart attack survivors founded WomenHeart, and we know exactly how you feel. Our goal is to help you help yourself. The more knowledge and insight we share with each other, the more we will all lead healthier and productive lives. The one thing we know firsthand is that you can recover and live a healthy life.

Some of your recovery obviously depends upon the quality of and how quickly you received medical care, your age, whether you have another medical condition (such as diabetes, obesity, or depression) other than heart disease, and if you can afford health insurance and prescription medication.

But we also know that your chances of recovery improve dramatically if you follow your health care providers’ treatment instructions AND are willing to assume responsibility for your own health and recovery. This means you need to keep up your end of the recovery bargain and make necessary changes in your life:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Stopping smoking
  • Controlling diabetes, depression, or obesity
  • Taking medicines as prescribed
  • Keeping all healthcare appointments
  • Reducing your anger and stress

In other words, you have to put yourself, your health, and your heart’s recovery first above all else. It must become your number one priority. If you find this difficult, you’re not alone. Many of us have spent our whole lives putting the needs of others ahead of our own.

It’s also easy to feel overwhelmed, confused, and defeated even before you begin. There are many changes you will be expected to make. Too many doctors and healthcare professionals telling you what to do. Too many friends hovering over you. Too many family members monitoring what you eat. Too many medicines to take.

Many women report that it takes several years to recover fully from a heart attack — physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Go slowly – making small changes in your diet and exercise over two or three months is a good way to feel in control and stay positive. Eventually, with your efforts and good medical care, you will re-gain your self-confidence and live life to the fullest. Remember, you are not your disease – you are a woman living with heart disease who also has a life to lead.