Research

Preventing a Second Heart Attack

Heart attacks, or myocardialinfarctions, occur when a blood clot or piece of plaque blocks one of thearteries that carries blood to the heart. This blockage of a coronary artery createsan oxygen-deprived area of the heart, damaging the muscle and affecting itsproper function.

The American Heart Association reports that 90 percent of the estimated 605,000 heart attacks that occur in the United States each year are survived. But subsequent heart attacks – about 200,000 a year, according to the latest statistics – occur within five years and can be deadly. Therefore, preventing a second heart attack may save your life.

Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute Cardiologist
John Morytko, M.D.

John Morytko, M.D., acardiologist with Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, givesthe top six ways he advises his patients to prevent another heart attack.  

No. 1: Education Is Key

“I let my patients know right away that a secondheart attack is likely,” Dr. Morytko said. “They often think that it can’thappen to them again, but it can, and it does.”

Dr. Morytko tells heart attack patients to follow upwith their cardiologist after their initial treatment to talk about reducingtheir risk of another heart attack.

“Risk reduction is an ongoing process, and we knowthe most effective ways to reduce risks are through lifestyle modifications,”he said.

No. 2: Take Your Medication

Dr. Morytko also emphasizes the importance of takingprescribed medications following a heart attack. Low-dose aspirin, especially,has been shown to prevent another heart attack, he says. Additionally, headvises his heart attack patients to take their cholesterol-lowering statins toward off future heart attacks.

“It’s essential for people to be compliant with theirmedications following a heart attack,” he said. “We see patients, especiallyour younger patients, stop taking their medicine when they start to feel OK.That’s a dangerous practice that could easily lead to another heart attack.”

No. 3: Improve Your Nutrition and Fitness Habits

Studies show that overweight, obesity and sedentarylifestyles play key roles in setting the stage for heart attacks. So, Dr.Morytko urges a healthy diet and regular moderate exercise.

He suggests eating foods that are low in sodium, transfats and cholesterol and limiting the intake of carbohydrates, especially thosefrom processed, high-sugar foods. He recommends the American Heart Association Diet and theMediterranean Diet, which both encourage the consumption of plant-based fruits,vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts, along with the moderate intake offish and poultry, and only occasional consumption of red meat and dairyproducts.

Dr. Morytko also encourages heart attack patients to increasetheir physical activity level. To do so, he advocates for enrollment in a cardiac rehabilitation program tostrengthen their heart muscle and their cardiovascular system, while improvingtheir overall health. Following the recommended 12-week program, he advisespatients to stick to the exercise guidelines of the American Heart Associationand exercise at a moderate intensity, where you’re still able to carry on aconversation, for 150 minutes each week.

No. 4: Manage Stress

The exercise that Dr. Morytko recommends has theadded benefit of helping to manage stress, improve sleep and reduce anxiety anddepression.

“Stress is a known contributor to heart attacks,” hesaid. “By reducing and managing stress, you reduce your heart attack risksignificantly.”

Dr. Morytko points to bad sleep hygiene as acontributing factor to raising stress levels and urges people to take steps toget a good night’s sleep. These include going to bed and waking up at the sametime daily, keeping a cool bedroom environment, turning off electronics atleast an hour before bedtime and avoiding caffeine. He also encourages peopleto avoid altogether or limit their alcohol consumption to fewer than two drinksa day.

No. 5: Control Blood Pressure and Diabetes

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, occurs when theheart must work harder to pump blood throughout the body. The constant pressureon the walls of the arteries and veins that carry blood can cause damage thatcan lead to heart attack, stroke and other circulation problems. Similarly, thehigh blood sugar levels seen with diabetes weaken circulation and heartfunction.

Dr. Morytko says that controlling both blood pressureand blood sugar are imperative to preventing a second heart attack.

“Healthy diets and taking prescribed medications tocontrol these factors are so important,” he said. “Working with your primarycare physician or endocrinologist can help you achieve optimal control andsignificantly reduce your chances of a repeat heart attack.”  

No. 6: Quit Smoking

Dr. Morytko also strongly recommends that people quitsmoking and vaping.

“If you don’t quit smoking, you’ll have anothervascular event. It’s only a matter of when,” he warned.

Smoking cessation programs and nicotine replacementtherapies are readily available through insurance providers and communityhealth programs. Dr. Morytko says finding these resources through your doctor orinsurance provider should be a first step to reducing your risk if you smoke orvape.

By following these six recommendations, Dr. Morytko saysthe chance of a repeat heart attack declines significantly.

“These tips are evidence-based, scientifically backedand work,” he said. “Risk reduction is an ongoing process that’s necessary toprevent another heart attack that could be deadly.”

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