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heart attack

heart attack
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Life after a heart attack

5-minute read

The outlook for people who have survived a heart attack can be highly variable and depend on:

  • their age – the older you are the more likely you are to experience serious complications
  • the severity of the heart attack – specifically how much of the heart muscle was damaged during the attack
  • how long it took before a person received treatment – the longer the delay the worse the outlook tends to be

In general around 10-20% of people who have a heart attack die as a result. These deaths often occur before a person reaches hospital, or alternatively, within the first 28 days after the heart attack.

If a person survives for 28 days after having a heart attack, their outlook improves dramatically and most people will go on to live for many years.

Cardiac rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation can help you to recover and resume a normal life as soon as possible after having a heart attack or heart surgery. It can also be helpful for people with heart failure.

Cardiac rehabilitation helps you to make practical, potentially life-saving changes to the way in which you live. They can also help you and your family deal with physical, emotional or psychological issues that can occur. The right rehabilitation program can help most people to reduce their risk of further heart problems.

Cardiac rehabilitation programs complement the advice that your doctor or cardiologist gives you.

You can find more information about cardiac rehabilitation at

Support groups

If you have or have had a heart condition, or if you are caring for someone with a heart condition, you might find it useful to meet other people in your area who are in a similar situation. There are a number of heart support groups around Australia that organise regular exercise sessions, such as walking groups, as well as other social activities.

Your doctor, specialist, local public hospital or Heart Foundation may provide you with details about your nearest group through their website, or by calling their Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12.


Coming to terms with a long-term condition such as heart disease can put a strain on you, your family and your friends. It can be difficult to talk with people about your condition, even if they are close to you. Be open about how you feel and let your family and friends know what they can do to help. But do not feel shy about telling them what you need such as time for yourself.

Your sex life

If you have coronary heart disease (CHD) or you have recently had heart surgery, or a heart attack, you may be concerned about having sex. Usually, as soon as you feel well enough, you can resume sexual activity. If you can walk up two flights of stairs without pain or breathlessness, you are usually considered able to have sex. If you have any problems, it is important to discuss them with your doctor so they can review your medicines and help you address any anxiety or fears you may have.

Communicate with your partner and stay open-minded. Explore what you both like sexually. Simply touching, being touched and being close to someone helps a person feel loved and special.


You will need your doctor's permission before you can drive again. It is recommended that you don't drive for a period of time after a heart attack, usually for at least 2 weeks after a heart attack. This time frame will be determined by your doctors and will be different for everyone depending on factors such as their age, general health and recovery. Contact the relevant authority in your state and your insurance company for advice on any driving restrictions.

If you drive for a living you will need medical clearance to resume your work.


Having a heart attack can be frightening and traumatic, and afterwards it is common to have feelings of anxiety. For many people, the emotional stresses can cause them to feel depressed and tearful for the first few weeks after returning home from hospital.

If feelings of depression persist, it is important you speak to your doctor because serious types of depression often do not get better without treatment and your emotional state could also have an adverse effect on your physical recovery.

beyondblue can provide more information on depression through their website, or by calling their information line on 1300 22 4636.

Returning to work

After recovering from heart surgery or a heart attack, you should be able to return to work within 2 to 4 weeks, but it may be necessary to change the type of work that you do. For example, you may not be able to do a job that involves heavy physical exertion. Your doctor will be able to advise you about when you can return to work, and what type of activities you should avoid.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2018

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