6 Unexpected Effects of Heart Disease

This common disease can hurt much more than your physical health.

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Heart disease is so much more than a physical condition—it can interfere with your personal and professional life in some surprising and frustrating ways.

To better understand the toll that heart disease takes on families, caregivers and individuals, a group of researchers surveyed heart attack survivors across the country. Their report, part the Gallup-Sharecare State of American Well-Being series, revealed major day-to-day challenges facing people with this chronic illness.

Here are some of the unexpected ways heart disease can impact your life.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

Heart disease uses up your paid time off
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Heart disease can stand in the way of your career, according to the Gallup-Sharecare report. People who had a heart problem in the last 12 months reported themselves as being:

  • Less active and productive at work
  • Lower performing
  • Absent 172 percent more often than those without heart problems

After a heart attack or heart surgery, give your body enough time to heal before rushing back to the office. Most people need at least two to four weeks off after a heart attack, six to eight weeks after open-heart surgery. Getting back in the game too soon could interfere with a safe recovery and lead to more days missed in the long run.

It makes it harder to keep up with loved ones
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One of the most upsetting aspects of heart disease is the way it can interrupt your family life. Pain, uncomfortable symptoms and feeling constantly exhausted may keep you from taking part in family activities. In fact, almost 50 percent of recently diagnosed people were kept from their usual activities by physical or mental health on at least two days in the last month, according to the Gallup-Sharecare report.

If your health is keeping you from spending time with loved ones:

  • Space out tasks and rest in between.
  • Plan ahead: if you’re going on a family outing, choose the activities you’ll do in advance and alternate easy tasks with hard ones.
Heart disease keeps you coming back to the ER
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Hospital visits are nerve-wracking to say the least—the whole time you’re there, you just want to get home. But for people with heart disease, the local emergency room (ER) can feel like a second home.
People who had a heart problem in the last 12 months visited the ER three times more than healthy individuals, according to the Gallup-Sharecare report. They were also admitted to the hospital almost five times more often.

Even if you already have heart disease, it’s important to build sneaky exercise into your routine and eat more heart healthy foods. Changing your lifestyle may be the last thing on your mind, but small adjustments can add up and help keep the ambulance away.

Symptoms sabotage your focus
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Distracting symptoms like shortness of breath, occasional chest pain, getting tired easily and swelling in your feet can make even the most basic tasks feel like a struggle.

Almost half of those diagnosed with heart disease in the last year reported being unable to concentrate when completing important tasks due to their symptoms. If pain, exhaustion or being generally out of shape is hurting your focus, ask your healthcare provider about physical therapy. A therapist can help you:

  • Increase your stamina at work and home.
  • Improve your balance.
  • Design a safe long-term fitness plan to improve your symptoms over time.
It ups your anxiety and depression risk
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Heart disease brings many changes like needing more help with everyday activities, which can be difficult to cope with. You may feel lonely, less like yourself and uncertain about the future.

It’s common to feel this way after learning you have heart disease: 42 percent of recently diagnosed people had two or more days of poor mental health in the last month. Depression or anxiety symptoms interfered with concentration at work for 23 percent of people as well, according to the Gallup-Sharecare report.

Talking to people who are facing similar challenges may help. Find a support group near you with the American Heart Association’s Support Network tool.

Heart disease puts your bank account in the red
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In addition to keeping you home from work, heart disease can puts serious strain on your bank account and your peace of mind. About 47 percent of recently diagnosed people reported feeling worried about money. Even if you have insurance, out-of-pocket costs can really add up.

But there are ways to cut drug costs and save big on hospital expenses. Start by getting organized: Store all of your hospital bills and insurance claims in one place. It’s typical to get multiple bills for the same service—saving and comparing your paperwork can keep you from paying twice.

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