Here’s a sobering statistic: Most heart attack victims wait at least two hours after their symptoms begin before seeking medical help. Unfortunately, the longer you wait, the more damage is done to your heart.
Heart damage can cause a wide range of post-heart-attack symptoms that can take weeks, months or even longer to develop—even if you’re receiving treatment. Some symptoms may not be so surprising: You may simply feel tired or weak after your ordeal. Others—weight gain from fluid buildup, shortness of breath—can signal underlying conditions such as congestive heart failure, which means your heart is no longer strong enough to effectively pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body. Heart damage can also trigger pericarditis, an inflammation and swelling of the heart’s covering. Symptoms of pericarditis include anxiety, chest pain, breathing problems, a dry cough and fever.
Other symptoms may catch you off-guard. Any time after your attack, you can experience:
Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias). Electrical impulses that coordinate heartbeats travel erratically around the heart when tissue is damaged. You may have a fluttering in your chest or a racing or slow heartbeat, as well as chest pain, shortness of breath or dizziness. Arrhythmias can require treatment, such as medication or surgery.
Chest pain (angina). You may feel discomfort, pressure, heaviness or pain in your chest, back, jaw, throat or arm, or you may have sensations of fullness, indigestion or choking. This usually happens after you exert yourself, during emotional stress or after a big meal, and usually goes away within a few minutes. Your provider can give you medication or recommend exercises to treat angina. If symptoms don’t subside with a few minutes of rest and you think you’re having another heart attack, seek immediate help.
Depression. As many as one in three heart attack patients experiences depression following a heart attack. You may feel sad or cranky, cry often, eat too little or too much, experience a loss of energy, have sleep problems or have suicidal thoughts. These things can prolong your recovery. Medication, counseling or a cardiac rehabilitation program can help you get back on track.
Mental fog. If you had heart surgery, you may not feel as mentally sharp as usual. This is normal, as your brain was stressed during surgery. In time, your cognitive function will return. Still, avoid mentally strenuous tasks in the first few weeks after surgery.
Sleep problems. Anxiety or depression can affect sleep, as can discomfort following surgery. If your sleep patterns cause changes in your behavior or don’t return to normal within a few months, get help.
If you experience any of the symptoms listed, make sure to report them to your healthcare provider.