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What happens in the first few days after a heart attack?

you will be closely monitored in the first few days after your heart attack © Crown Copyright 2009

You will be closely monitored in the first few days after your heart attack

Depending on the severity of your heart attack, the treatment
you have received and your home situation, you will usually
be in hospital for 3 to 5 days.

  • The first 24-48 hours after a heart attack is when your condition will be most unstable.
  • This period is often spent in a coronary care unit (CCU), a specialised intensive care unit for heart patients, or in an acute medical ward where your heart function can be monitored closely.
  • Your blood sugar level will also be closely monitored. After a heart attack, some people have an increase in their blood sugar level. If this happens you might need treatment with insulin to reduce your blood sugar levels.
  • As a result of your heart attack, other conditions can develop. For example, your heart may not be able to pump blood around your body as well as it did before, or there may be damage to the control of the electrical activity of your heart.
  • It is normal to feel very tired after a heart attack. Initially try to limit any visiting to your immediate family and keep visits brief. Meals are intentionally light as a heavy meal will increase demand on your heart. Eating smaller meals more often means that your heart will not have to work so hard.

For most people, after a couple of days, your heart will settle down, the risk of another heart attack lessens and intensive monitoring can be stopped. From the CCU you will be transferred to a ward. Here you will gradually increase what you do for yourself and have any other tests the doctors might feel necessary.

  • Any underlying conditions such as high blood pressurediabetes or high cholesterol can also be assessed and treatment started if necessary. It also gives the team a chance to identify any lifestyle risk factors that apply to you and provide you with information about changes you can make to reduce your chances of having another heart attack.

Going home

You may find that you don’t really remember a lot of what the doctors and nurses told you, especially during the first few days. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of staff and talk to your family about what has been happening.

If you can, try to have someone with you at home for the first few days or weeks, depending on how you feel. Or, arrange to stay with friends or family for a few days.

Before you leave the hospital, you should receive information about cardiac rehabilitation (rehab), and an idea of when you should expect to be contacted by your cardiac rehab team.

You will also receive a supply of medicines. The doctor or nurse should make sure that you understand how and when to take each of these and how to get a further supply.

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