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Recovering: Heart Attack/Heart Surgery

When a woman comes home from the hospital after a heart attack or after heart surgery, it can be difficult to estimate what she might be expected to do once she gets home. Many women are impatient to resume their usual activities at home or may feel pressured to get back to their jobs. Women are used to being the caretakers at home and often put their own needs second to their family members. Women need to remember that in order to take care of their family, they must be healthy and recover fully from a life-altering event such as a heart attack or heart surgery.

Get All the Information

  • Talk to your cardiologist or family doctor about your recovery at home. Ask what activities you can do, and when. Your doctor can give you an exercise test, where you will walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike, while the doctor monitors your heart. This test can help your doctor decide what level of activity you are ready to begin. This exercise test may be completed before you enroll in cardiac rehabilitation.
  • Learn about your condition. Read the educational materials available from your hospital, the American Heart Association, the library or a health information center.
  • Share information with your family so that they understand what heart disease is and tell them about your physical limitations.
  • Ask your healthcare providers about cardiac rehabilitation.

Changing Your Lifestyle While Recovering

  • Take it easy. Heart attack patients are usually told not to return to work for 6 weeks. However, women often start doing household chores sooner. It is easy to forget that housework can be heavy physical work. For example, lifting a wet, queen-sized sheet out of the washing machine is like lifting 7 kg (more than 15 pounds). This is not recommended for recovering patients!
  • Delegate household chores to your family.
  • Accept help from your friends, family, and community. Look to your close friends and family for support.
  • If you can, spend money on things like housecleaning help, or nutritious, low-fat frozen meals.
  • Eat several small meals a day rather than one big meal late in the day. Big meals put a heavy load on your blood circulation system. Rest after meals. Pace yourself!
  • Take lots of time to do all your activities.
  • Rest for 20 to 30 minutes, twice a day.
  • Sometimes it is hard to give up responsibility for your household tasks. Remind yourself that you are getting better and that your family managed somehow when you were in the hospital!

Your heart attack or heart surgery may have led you to make some healthy lifestyle changes. You may be:

  • quitting smoking
  • starting a heart-healthy diet
  • exercising more
  • achieving/maintaining a healthy weight
  • learning to manage stress

Because of these changes, chances are you will feel better with time. Heart patients should return to productive, energetic lives once they have recovered.

Having Sex after a Heart Attack or Heart Surgery

It is safe to have sex again with your partner when you can be physically active without chest pain—usually 4 to 6 weeks into recovery, but discuss this with your doctor. Tell your partner to be slow and gentle, with lots of cuddling and touching. Choose a time when you are relaxed and comfortable. Do not have sex if you are upset, tired, anxious, or after a big meal. These all put an extra load on your blood circulation system.

Taking Care of Your Feelings

Having a heart attack or heart surgery is frightening. Often a life-altering event can change your perspective of your health and vitality. It is not uncommon for women (or men) to report being depressed afterwards. In fact, 25 to 30 percent of heart patients become depressed during recovery. Talk with your doctor if you feel depressed. Your doctor may refer you to support groups for other heart disease survivors, you may be referred for counseling, or you may even need medical therapy for depression and stress in certain cases.


Center for Women's Cardiovascular Health
1-866-662-8467 (toll free)

Information line
312-MYHEART (694-3278)

Last UpdateNovember 23, 2012

Referrals &

To obtain a referral or schedule
an appointment:

Northwestern Memorial:

Northwestern Lake Forest:
847-LF-HEART (534-3278)

Northwestern Grayslake:
847-LF-HEART (534-3278)

Glenview Outpatient Center:

847-724-GLEN (4536)