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What to do after a heart disease diagnosis

Thursday, November 09, 2023 2:49 PM

By NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

When you’re told you have heart disease, whether it’s after a dramatic event like a heart attack, an irregular heartbeat, or the anxiety associated with cardiac testing, it can lead to distress.

People diagnosed with heart disease are not alone. It’s a common disease. The American Heart Association reported that between 2015 and 2018, 126.9 million American adults were living with cardiovascular disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that every year about 805,000 people in the U.S. have a heart attack.

“Despite how common it is, a heart disease diagnosis can be jolting and scary,” said Paul Ruzumna, MD, cardiologist with Northwest Community Hospital, part of NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health. “Fully understanding your condition will help ease some anxiety and will help you be better informed about your treatment options.”

There are some things patients can do after a heart disease diagnosis to feel more in control of their health.


1. Ask your doctor questions.

Start a list of any questions patients might have, including things like:

  • Will my condition improve?
  • What symptoms should I be concerned about?
  • What should I do if I notice concerning symptoms?
  • Is it OK for me to exercise?
  • Is it OK to have sex?
  • Should I change my diet?

Bring the list to your doctor’s appointment and take notes so you remember what was said later.

2. Make sure medication and follow-up appointments are organized.

If you need medication, make sure you know what it is and how often to take it. Put follow-up appointments on your calendar and set reminders. Ask your doctor if you will need follow-up tests or treatment, and if so, what and when?

3. Connect with a support system.

The support of family and friends can go a long way toward reducing the stress of a heart disease diagnosis. If you feel you need professional support, consider scheduling an appointment with a behavioral health therapist.

4. Look into cardiac rehabilitation.

This is a key, but often underestimated, part of treatment for heart disease. Cardiac rehab includes supervised exercise, nutritional support and more, to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. While most people in cardiac rehab have had a heart attack or cardiac procedure, even people with mild heart disease can benefit from these programs. Rehab has also been shown to improve quality of life for certain patients with congestive heart failure.

Often patients who are in cardiac rehab together form a close-knit support group. The camaraderie and empathy other patients provide also helps their mental state, as depression and anxiety frequently follow a heart disease diagnosis.

While a heart disease diagnosis can be shocking, becoming familiar with what to expect and your care plan can help you regain some control over your health.

Your heart is in good hands when you choose us for cardiovascular care. Learn more about our high-quality heart care.