The timeline for recovery from a heart attack depends on its severity, symptoms, and speed of treatment. While most people can return to regular activities after a few weeks, some may need a few months.

With treatment, most people recover after a heart attack and have full, active lives. A 2018 study among people in 2,363 hospitals placed the current risk of dying from a heart attack within 30 days at just 13.6%.

Heart attack recovery time depends on a person’s overall health and symptoms. For instance, if they do not have ongoing chest pain or other issues, they may be able to start walking around right away.

This article explains what to expect after a heart attack, including when a return to usual activity may be possible. It also explores how a heart attack may affect life expectancy.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The timeline for recovering from a heart attack will differ depending on how severe the heart attack was, whether symptoms are still present, and how quickly a person received treatment.

If a person does not experience ongoing chest pain or other problems, they may be able to walk around immediately after a heart attack and resume their regular routine within a few weeks.

People can check their state’s rules on driving after a heart attack. Some states allow people to start driving again within around 1 week in cases where no symptoms are present.

However, recovery may take up to a few months if the heart attack is severe. A healthcare professional can provide guidance on how long a person’s recovery will likely take.

Major heart attacks cause severe heart damage and can lead to complications, including irregular heartbeat and heart failure. Major attacks often lead to intensive treatment and a longer recovery. It can be several months before a person can resume their regular routine.

Minor heart attacks are still serious. However, they do not often lead to major complications and have a shorter recovery time than major heart attacks.

If a person makes heart-healthy lifestyle adjustments and follows the prescribed course of medication after a minor heart attack, they may be able to drive, have sex, and work again within a few weeks.

However, returning to work also depends on the physical demands involved in the job. People without complications can generally return to jobs that require low or moderate physical effort in 1 month.

Those in more physically active jobs should have a maximal stress test at 1 month after a heart attack to determine how their heart responds to physical activity. If they do not experience symptoms of pain and have a good response to exercise, it is likely safe to return to work.

No general data provide an average life expectancy after a heart attack. However, it is possible to live a long, active life after experiencing one.

Around 20% of people who experience a heart attack will have another within 5 years, and a second attack can be more damaging than the first. Despite this, there are plenty of measures people can take to help reduce their risk of future cardiac events.

Data suggest females have a higher mortality rate from heart attacks than males. The Women’s Heart Foundation estimates that females have a 42% chance of dying within a year of heart attack, compared with 24% among males. It states that this may relate to females experiencing different symptoms than males, which may interfere with timely diagnosis and treatment.

After a heart attack, making lifestyle adjustments can reduce the risk of a person experiencing complications and a second cardiac event.

These may include the following:

Eating a diet full of heart-healthy foods

Making certain dietary choices can improve blood pressure and reduce levels of harmful low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood.

A heart-healthy diet involves:

  • Eating adequate fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and high protein foods such as fish, lean meat, nuts, seeds, legumes, and eggs.
  • Limiting foods that contain excess sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars.
  • Cutting back on alcohol, as drinking alcohol can contribute to weight gain and increase blood pressure.

Learn more about eating a heart-healthy diet.

Maintaining a moderate body weight

The more body fat a person has and the more they weigh, the more likely they are to develop heart disease, which is especially problematic after a heart attack.

While body mass index (BMI) isn’t the whole picture of health, staying within the recommended range may help a person prevent future heart attacks. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides an online calculator people can use to check their BMI.

Learn more about BMI and body weight.

Managing stress as much as possible

Emotional stress and anger can trigger heart attacks. While a certain level of stress is a natural part of life, managing excess stress is important for overall quality of life and can help protect the heart from damage.

Stress management might involve:

  • practicing relaxation techniques, meditation, or yoga
  • having professional counseling
  • staying physically active
  • being open with family members, friends, or community support systems about worries and issues that are causing stress

Learn more about stress reduction techniques.

Staying active

Exercise can support weight management and help people manage stress. It also helps strengthen the heart muscles and improves how the lungs move oxygen around the body.

Aerobic exercise is best for the heart. It speeds up the heartbeat and increases oxygen use. Forms of aerobic exercise include:

  • running
  • brisk walking
  • cycling
  • swimming
  • dancing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend people engage in 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week. People can also try an equivalent mix of the two.

In addition, the CDC recommend doing muscle-strengthening activities at least twice per week.

Learn more about exercise for heart health.

Stopping smoking, if applicable

Smoking increases heart attack risk and other heart disease risk factors. Although it can be difficult to quit smoking, a dcotor may be able to offer advice on local programs or support groups that can help.

Learn more about stopping smoking.

A heart attack is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately if a person experiences:

  • squeezing, pulling, fullness, or pain in the center or left side of the chest
  • weakness or lightheadedness
  • a cold sweat
  • jaw, neck, or back pain
  • pain in one arm, both arms, or the shoulders
  • breathlessness

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

A full recovery is possible for most people after a heart attack. Recovery depends on the attack’s severity, the number of previous attacks a person has experienced, and which treatments are required.

Following medical advice, taking heart medications as prescribed, and leading a heart-healthy lifestyle can help a person reduce their risk of experiencing further heart attacks, which can be more dangerous than a first attack.