Heart attack

A heart attack (heart damage) occurs when there is a blockage in one of the coronary arteries. Pain lasts over 30 minutes and will not go away with rest or the use of nitro-glycerine. Most heart attack patients are admitted as soon as possible to a hospital where there are specialist facilities, such as a coronary care unit.

The injured heart - like any other muscle injury - heals best with a period of rest (five to ten days in hospital in uncomplicated cases), followed by a convalescent stage (four to six weeks at home). It is important for patients to realise that the majority of people who suffer heart attacks are back at work after six to eight weeks.

Physical activity at home

First week
It is normal to feel tired initially. Dress and sit up for most of the day and attempt to walk 100 metres two or three times a day. Don't be frightened to walk slowly up a flight of stairs. Ensure that you have enough rest periods during the day and a good nights sleep.

Second week
Increase your daily activity but do not tire yourself. Attempt to walk 200 metres two to three times per day. Passive hobbies are a good idea.

Third week
Your heart needs time to heal, so strenuous activities should not be undertaken. Increase your walking to 400 metres two or three times per day, and do light household chores. Remember: no strenuous activities - plan your day well.

Fourth week
Walk 800 metres two to three times per day. Do not jog. Avoid carrying heavy packages. Commence light gardening and shopping. You will be asked to return to your physician approximately four to six weeks after a heart attack for a follow-up assessment. This may include an exercise ECG test, so that the doctor can assess your present cardiac condition.

Return to work

Your doctor will discuss this with you.


Resumption of driving depends upon your progress. Discuss this with your doctor during your follow-up visit.

Sexual activity

If you are able to walk one or two flights of stairs without any significant increase in your pulse rate, shortness of breath or chest discomfort, it is safe to resume sexual activity.

Air travel

It is recommended that you avoid travelling long distances for the first three months after your attack.


Alcohol in moderation is allowed.


Take your medication as prescribed - only stopping on your doctor's instructions. If you experience any side effects contact your doctor immediately. Ensure that you always have sufficient medication.


Diabetics are urged to strictly monitor and control their diet and blood sugar levels.

Diet sheet

Follow the recommendations on the diet sheet that will be given to you at the Hospital.

Special advice for women

Women with high blood pressure, angina pectoris, a previous history of heart attack or blood clotting problems should not use oral or injectable contraceptives. Consult your doctor for advice.

When to notify your doctor

Notify your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Chest pain which does not respond within ten to fifteen minutes to treatment and rest, and is similar to that which you experienced with your heart attack.
  • Breathlessness that gets progressively worse, or breathing that deteriorates suddenly.
  • Tiredness that prevents you from performing minor tasks such as dressing or bathing.
  • Swelling of the ankles and lower legs.
  • Fainting attacks.
  • Palpitations with slow or fast heart rates.