Frequently Asked Questions
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Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if I’m having a stroke or heart attack?

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, where no one doubts what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Q: What to Do in Case of a Stroke or Heart Attack:

A: Immediately call 9-1-1 or the emergency medical services (EMS) number so an ambulance (ideally with advanced life support) can be sent for you. -Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. EMS staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too. It is best to call EMS for rapid transport to the emergency room.

Also, check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared. It's very important to take immediate action. If given within 3 hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) may reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke. tPA is the only FDA-approved medication for the treatment of stroke within three hours of stroke symptom onset.

A TIA or transient ischemic attack is a "warning stroke" or "mini-stroke" that produces stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke.

Q: What treatments will I need?

A: Treatments for heart attack patients include medications, lifestyle changes, and, in some cases, surgical procedures. Your doctor may also run some diagnostic tests to determine how much your heart was damaged and what degree of coronary artery disease you have.

Q: How long should you rest after a heart attack?

A: Rest is important after a heart attack, but it's just as important for you to participate in recreation and social events and to begin making physical activity a part of your daily life. In many cases doctors will recommend that survivors get more physical activity than they got before their heart attack. A good night's rest is especially important for heart attack patients. And if you feel tired during the day, take a nap or a short rest. Heart patients should rest before they get too tired. Your doctor will tell you what's best for your specific situation, but most heart attack patients find they have plenty of energy for both work and leisure activities.

Q: Is chest pain normal after a heart attack?

A: Not everyone will have chest pain (angina pectoris), but if you do, it should be a light pain or pressure in your chest that quickly goes away. It will typically happen during or right after physical exertion, intense emotion or eating a heavy meal. If you're having ANY chest pains, tell your doctor. There are exercises and medication that can help ease or prevent the pain. If your angina gets worse over time or starts to occur after very little exercise, see your doctor immediately. Learn more about angina pectoris treatments.

Q: When can you go back to work?

A: Most heart attack patients go back to work within two weeks to three months depending on the severity of the heart attack. Your doctor will determine when you can go back and if your current job is suitable for a person who has had a heart attack.

Q: Why is cardiac rehabilitation important?

A: One of the best things you can do for yourself is to get into a cardiac rehabilitation program where everything you need to get and stay healthy is in one convenient location. Research shows cardiac rehab saves lives. In a recent study, cardiac death was lower, there were fewer second heart attacks and fewer necessary cardiac surgeries in patients who were exercise-trained compared with those who received "usual care." Rehabilitation programs can help you change your lifestyle habits. These programs often take place at a hospital with a rehabilitation team or with the help of your doctor, nurse, dietitian or other healthcare professionals.

Q: Is it normal to feel so depressed?

A: Heart attack patients will feel a wide range of emotions, typically for about two to six months after the event. Depression is quite normal, along with fear and anger. For example, every time you feel a little pain, you may feel afraid it's going to happen again — afraid you're going to die. That's normal and will begin to pass as time goes by. You may be angry that this happened, and you're probably feeling irritated and have a "short fuse" with others. Resentment is common after a heart attack. Try to understand that your family and friends are just as worried as you are. Although depression is normal after a heart attack, if it interferes with sleeping, eating, self-esteem, or if you have thoughts of suicide, you should talk to your doctor and those close to you about your feelings. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Recovery is much faster with a trusted support team of healthcare professionals, family and friends.

Q: How will your family feel?

A: Your heart attack has probably had a big emotional impact on your family. They may feel frightened, angry, resentful or even guilty. Teenagers are especially sensitive and may think that something they did caused you to have the heart attack. It's better for everyone to get his or her feelings out in the open. Don't let feelings smolder — that can be destructive. If you think counseling would help your family deal with your heart attack more quickly, ask your doctor to refer you to someone for help.

Q: How likely am I to have a stroke or heart disease?

A: Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. Stroke is the No. 3 cause of death in the United States. One reason these statistics are fact is undeniably a lack of commitment to a heart-healthy lifestyle. Your lifestyle is not only your best defense against heart disease and stroke, it's also your responsibility. A heart-healthy lifestyle includes the ideas listed in the heart below. By following these three simple steps you can reduce all of the modifiable risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

  1. Avoid tobacco If you smoke, quit. If someone in your household smokes, encourage them to quit. We know it's tough. But it's tougher to recover from a heart attack or stroke or to live with chronic heart disease. Commit to quit. We're here to help if you need it.
  2. Become more active Be physically active every day. Research has shown that getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity on 5 or more days of the week can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep your weight at a healthy level. But something IS better than nothing. If you're doing nothing now, start out slow. Even 10 minutes at a time may offer some health benefits. Studies show that people who have achieved even a moderate level of fitness are much less likely to die early than those with a low fitness level.
  3. Choose good nutrition A healthy diet is one of the best weapons you have to fight cardiovascular disease. The food you eat (and the amount) can affect other controllable risk factors: cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and overweight. Choose nutrient-rich foods — which have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, but are lower in calories — over nutrient-poor foods. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grain and high-fiber foods, fish, lean protein and fat-free or low-fat dairy products is the key. And to maintain a healthy weight, coordinate your diet with your physical activity level so you're using up as many calories as you take in.

    Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and lead to heart failure or stroke. It can contribute to high triglycerides, produce irregular heartbeats and affect cancer and other diseases. It contributes to obesity, alcoholism, suicide and accidents. The risk of heart disease in people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (an average of one drink for women or two drinks for men per day) is lower than in nondrinkers. However, it's not recommended that nondrinkers start using alcohol or that drinkers increase the amount they drink.

To learn more, visit The American Stroke Association and the American Heart Association websites.