If your parent has recently been hospitalized for a heart attack, the future may seem very uncertain. Now is the time to organize medical care and figure out how to make the transition from hospital to home as smooth as possible. Ask your parent's doctors and nurses the following:
How serious was the heart attack?
Some heart attacks are worse than others. Knowing how badly your parent's heart was damaged will give you a clearer sense of his prognosis and timeline for recovery. The extent of damage will also determine any complications your parent might have.
What complications should we watch for?
If your parent suffered a very mild heart attack, you might not need to worry about complications at all. But if the attack was more severe, your parent could develop complications, such as an arrhythmia, congestive heart failure, or stroke. Ask the doctor about your parent's risk for these complications and how to recognize them if they develop.
How much care will my parent need -- and for how long?
If your parent will need more care than you can provide, now is the time to make plans. The doctors and nurses should be able to give you an idea of how badly and how long your parent will be disabled.
When can my parent resume normal activities?
How much and what type of activities your parent can do will depend on the condition of his heart. In most cases, heart attack survivors can get back to normal activities within a few months; others may need to take it easy for a longer period of time. Depending on his state's laws, your parent may be able to start driving within a couple of weeks. The doctor can help you and your parent set a realistic timetable for recovery.
What exercises should my parent do?
Physical activity strengthens the heart muscle and is important for overall health. Exercise can help your parent reduce his cholesterol level, lose weight, and lower his blood pressure. But it's important not to overdo it, especially soon after a heart attack. Ask the doctor if your parent could benefit from a cardiac rehabilitation program, in which an exercise specialist will help him develop a program he can continue on his own.
What kinds of dietary restrictions are necessary?
You probably already realize that your parent will need to make changes to his diet, but the thought of implementing those changes may daunt you. The doctors and nurses can help you figure out the best diet for your parent. Ask what foods are good for heart health, what foods he should limit, and how to control portion size. If you need more help, ask for a referral to a nutritionist who specializes in cardiac patients.
What medications will my parent need to take -- and what are the likely side effects?
The doctor has probably prescribed a bewildering array of different medications for your parent. Make sure you understand each medication and its potential side effects. For each medication, ask:
- What does it do?
- How often should my parent take it?
- Should my parent take this medication with food?
- Is there anything my parent should not eat or drink with this medication?
- What side effects might we expect?
What doctors should my parent see?
If your parent's heart attack was fairly mild, he may be able to continue to see only his primary care physician. But if his heart was badly damaged, he'll probably need to see a cardiologist as well. Ask what doctors he'll need to visit and whether your insurance will cover those appointments.
What's my parent 's risk for another heart attack, and what signs should we watch for?
Most heart attack survivors are at a higher risk for a second attack. Ask the doctor how you can tell the difference between angina and a heart attack. Be aware that the second heart attack may not exhibit the same symptoms as the first. With that in mind, ask the doctor for a list of signs to watch for and what to do if you see them, including where you should seek emergency care.
What local support and other resources are available?
Your parent's doctors and nurses are a great source of information about the support network available for cardiac patients and their families. Don't hesitate to ask them for referrals.