Right after having a heart attack or undergoing angioplasty or bypass surgery, you'll need time to recuperate. In addition to the emotional impact of a brush with death, you'll feel run-down and physically depleted. Even short periods of bed rest and inactivity weaken the muscles, heart, and lungs. Blood loss from surgery, angioplasty, and multiple blood tests can leave you with low blood levels of iron (anemia), a common cause of fatigue. Your appetite may have flagged, and not eating and drinking saps your energy. Finally, your body may be adjusting to a new regimen of medications, which can also cause weakness.
Not that long ago, rest was what the doctor ordered after a heart attack or heart trouble. Taking it easy, the thinking went, wouldn't stress the heart and would help it heal more quickly. Now, doctors know that inactivity doesn't help your heart or the rest of your body. Exercise not only strengthens your heart, it helps your muscles use oxygen more efficiently, easing the heart's workload.
A month or so after a heart attack or bypass surgery, and sooner after angioplasty, you should start cardiac rehabilitation, a medically supervised program designed to help you heal your heart and keep it healthy. The centerpiece of cardiac rehabilitation is usually a structured and supervised exercise program. Rehab programs also teach people about heart disease and how to manage it. Many also offer classes or information on weight management, nutrition education, stress reduction, smoking cessation, and returning to work. The staff typically includes doctors, nurses, exercise specialists, physical and occupational therapists, nutritionists, and psychologists.
More Answers from Anthony Komaroff, MD