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5 Steps to Follow Up After a Heart Attack

heart-attack-follow-upAfter a recent heart attack, the road ahead may seem overwhelming, with many new medications, doctor appointments and lifestyle changes to navigate. This is a critical time to embrace a proactive role in your health because a heart attack is not just a one-time event; after a recent heart attack, you are at an even higher risk of having another one. In fact, approximately 200,000 people in the U.S. suffer a recurrent heart attack each year.

After hospital discharge for heart attack or severe chest pain (acute coronary syndrome), it's important to work with your doctor to ensure that you are asking the right questions about your health and have a plan of action for ongoing treatment. Matthew Budoff, MD, Professor of Medicine and Program Director, Division of Cardiology at University of California Los Angeles recommends these five steps to help you feel prepared to take charge of your health.

1. Fill any prescriptions given to you at the hospital and ask your doctor for information.

Take your health into your own hands from the very start. When you're discharged from the hospital, your doctor may write you prescriptions for new medications. Managing multiple medicines can be overwhelming, so it is important to start off on the right foot by filling the prescriptions right away, taking the medicines as directed and following any other discharge instructions.

This is a critical time to make sure that you are talking with your doctor and pharmacist about your existing and new medications. You can also do your own research and learn more about your prescriptions by visiting websites to find out more information and even by connecting to other patients who have gone through similar experiences.

Someone who has experienced a heart attack may be prescribed medications including aspirin, ACE inhibitors or ARBs, beta blockers, and statins, which are lipid lowering medications, among other therapies. An important medicine your doctor will likely prescribe is an oral antiplatelet (OAP) prescription medicine, such as BRILINTA® (ticagrelor). BRILINTA is for people who have had a heart attack or severe chest pain that happened because their heart wasn't getting enough oxygen and is used with aspirin to lower your chance of having another serious problem with your heart or blood vessels such as heart attack, stroke, or blood clots in your stent if you received one.

2. Make a follow-up appointment with your clinical cardiologist

Next, make a follow-up appointment with your clinical cardiologist to discuss your treatment plan and continue to make decisions together. It is the clinical cardiologist's responsibility to help patients once they leave the hospital after a heart attack. One study found that patients who are discharged after a heart attack and do not see their doctor within six weeks are less likely to adhere to their medications. Your clinical cardiologist will be with you for the twists and turns of your journey, so it's a good idea to ensure you're working together.

3. Prepare for your follow-up appointment

The first doctor's visit after a heart attack is important. You may be wondering: "When can I go back to work?" "What should I be eating?" "Should I avoid strenuous activity?" "What medications should I be taking?" Some topics to talk to your doctor about include:

  • Medication list. Be sure to take a list of your medications and discuss all your medications, including over the counter medications and vitamins, with your doctor to ensure that you know what you should be taking
  • Lifestyle changes. After a heart attack, you must be prepared to make lifestyle modifications. Eating healthier, managing stress, keeping regular medical checkups, setting up medication reminders, and stopping smoking are important. Also, talk to your doctor about the right amount of exercise you should also be getting.
  • Medication supply. As your doctor considers your treatment regimen, ask him or her about potential savings programs that are available to you. Some insurance plans or pharmaceutical companies may offer savings programs based on varying days of supply, including 30-day or 90-day prescriptions.
  • Strategies to reduce costs. Patient savings programs, savings cards and understanding your health benefits (such as reviewing your health plans before selecting) are all potential strategies. Before filling your medicines, talk to your doctor about free samples to help determine if a medicine works for you.

4. Go to your follow-up appointment ready to take charge of your treatment plan

Attend your follow-up appointment with your questions ready. It may help to bring a loved one or caregiver with you, who can also be of great support. Many people who have experienced a heart attack may also have other related cardiovascular or metabolic conditions, such as high cholesterol or diabetes, so it's important to follow your treatment plan, manage your visits with your doctors and share important information with them so they can understand how best to support your patient journey.

5. Commit to your treatment plan

Even if you're doing well after a heart attack, it's important that you follow your treatment plan and talk to your doctor before stopping or changing a medication. If you need help remembering to take your medication, consider simple solutions like pill organizers or setting a reminder on your phone.

Remember to ask your doctor questions about ways to maintain your healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise, smoking cessation and taking your medications as prescribed. Managing your personal health requires discipline, so consider the resources available and take advantage of them. Above all, strive to stay consistent and engaged to have the most control over your health.

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch or call 1-800-FDA-1088. (BPT)