The untold story of a heart attack

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One in two heart attack survivors did not return to the same level of paid work or physical activity as before, according to figures released by the Heart Foundation today to launch Heart Week (1-7 May).

The survey of 351 heart attack survivors showed even performing basic activities of personal hygiene, such as showering/bathing, is difficult with more than one in five people stating they can’t do so at the same level prior to their heart attack.

Heart Foundation’s Chief Medical Advisor Professor Garry Jennings AO, said the results highlight the disabling effect a heart attack has on a person and the ongoing impact it can have on their loved ones.

“There’s this perception that people have a heart attack and then three days later they leave hospital ‘cured’. However this is far from the truth. All these people now live with a life-long condition of heart disease and for many it will impact their quality of life,” Prof Jennings said.

The survey found:

  • One in four survivors have been unable to resume work at the same level prior to their heart attack, and an additional one in four survivors were not able to resume work at all
  • almost 45% of survivors were not able look after or play with their  children/grandchildren at the same level or at all
  • almost 50% were not able to do the gardening at the same level as before or at all

Prof Jennings added achieving a healthy lifestyle was critical for those who have had a heart attack, and during Heart Week the charity was promoting the benefits of attending cardiac rehabilitation – a program that helps survivors recover.

“Every year 55,000 Australians have a heart attack, yet only around 13,000 of survivors will attend a life-saving cardiac rehabilitation program,” he said. 

“Without relevant lifestyle adjustments heart attack survivors might have another heart attack or they might find themselves with long term damage to the heart such as heart failure or atrial fibrillation.

“Cardiac rehabilitation is a co-ordinated program of long-term care which helps people deal with the complicated information and emotions which arise after a heart attack, supporting a return to an active and satisfying life.

“Importantly, more than one in three survivors surveyed felt attending cardiac rehabilitation gave them an understanding of the emotions and fears they were dealing with and felt it also reduced their anxiety/depression.

“Cardiac rehabilitation programs should be seen as an investment in the future.  It may take some time and effort now, but will dramatically increase a person’s quality of life and improve their health.”

People are 40% less likely to be readmitted to hospital and 25% less likely to die from another heart attack if they have participated in a cardiac rehabilitation program.

Have a conversation with your doctor, and call the Heart Foundation Health Information Service on 1300 36 27 87 – they can help you find your local cardiac rehabilitation program.

For more information visit www.heartfoundation.org.au/heartweek

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What is cardiac rehab?

  • Cardiac rehabilitation programs include physical activity, health education, counselling, behaviour modification strategies and support for managing your heart condition.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation programs are held in hospitals, community spaces or in your home and can be attended in person, over the phone, or online. 

Quick heart stats

  • An Aussie has a heart attack every 10 minutes
  • It is estimated over 430,000 Australians have had a heart attack at some time in their lives
  • Heart attacks are the single biggest killer of Australians every year.
  • Heart attack claims the life of one person every hour
  • One in three heart attacks are repeat heart attacks
  • One in five people who have had a heart attack will have another heart attack within 12 months.
  • Each heart attack costs our health system $30,700
  • The average cost of a cardiac rehabilitation program is approximately $885 per person

Heart Foundation Heart Attack Survivors Survey 2015