6 tips for preventing a second heart attack

One in 5 people who have a heart attack will have a second within 5 years. It’s a fact we can’t afford to overlook here in Tennessee.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in our state. According to the BlueCross BlueShield Health Index, hypertension and heart disease are 2 of the top 3 health challenges Tennesseans face. Both increase heart attack risk, especially for people who’ve already experienced one.

“The fact that 20% of people who have had a heart attack will have another is a very serious thing,” says Dr. Ian Hamilton, medical director at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “And people with a family history of heart attacks need to be even more careful. But there are simple things you do to lower your risk, whether that’s taking your medications or walking for 20 minutes a day.”

Here are 6 key things you can do to help prevent a second heart attack.

1. Stop smoking

You can cut your risk for a second heart attack in half by not smoking. In fact, smoking is the biggest preventable risk factor for heart disease. If you’ve tried to quit in the past and haven’t had success, talk to your doctor. New approaches are being developed all the time, from nicotine replacement products to medication.

2. Take your medications

After a heart attack, your doctor will probably prescribe medications to ensure the heart muscle works properly. Fill them, set up auto-refills or reminders, and take them as prescribed. According to the American College of Cardiology, patients who don’t take medicine as prescribed are at 4 times greater risk of stroke and death than those who do. If taking medications is something you struggle with, click here for help.

3. Keep your doctor’s appointments

Once you have a heart attack, you’ll need to see your cardiologist or primary care provider regularly so they can monitor your progress. Call your doctor if you experience symptoms between visits, and keep appointments whether you’re feeling healthy or not. Even if things are going well, your doctor may need to make changes to your care plan.

4. Don’t ignore chronic health conditions

You are at a higher risk for a second heart attack if you have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. If you have:

  • Diabetes,your doctor can help you lower your blood sugar to decrease scarring or narrowing of the blood vessels, which can lead to a second heart attack.
  • High blood pressure, your doctor can prescribe medications or diets that can help manage hypertension such as the Mediterranean or DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
  • High cholesterol, your doctor can help you manage it through lifestyle changes and possibly with cholesterol-lowering medicines such as statins.

With all of these conditions, it’s important to see your doctor regularly. Some people are genetically predisposed to high blood pressure or high cholesterol even with lifestyle changes, and the only way to manage those is with help from a physician.

That includes mental health. Depression, stress and anxiety can all take a toll on heart health. If you find yourself struggling to cope with multiple health conditions, click here.

5. Add exercise to your routine

Cardiac rehab typically includes medically-supervised exercise 3 times per week for 3 months. Patients who participate can lower their chance of a repeat heart attack by up to 47%. Afterward, it’s important to continue exercising to strengthen your heart muscle, boost energy and help manage your weight.

The American Heart Association suggests:

  • 2.5 hours per week of moderate exercise, or
  • 1.25 hours per week of vigorous exercise.

However, experts agree that even modest amounts of exercise such as briskly walking for 20 minutes a day are associated with significantly lowering your risk of heart disease. Start there.

6. Improve your diet

A healthy diet that limits sugar, saturated fat and too much salt is key to preventing a second heart attack. By cutting back on saturated and trans fats alone, you can lower your “bad” cholesterol (LDL), one of the main substances that causes heart attacks. Specifically, eat fewer cookies, fries, doughnuts, margarine and snack foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils.

To learn more about foods you should add and subtract from your diet to improve your cholesterol, click here

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.

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Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).