14 October 2019
Strokes and Heart Attacks – A Timeline (What You Need to Know)
Experiencing a stroke or heart attack can be one of the scariest times in anyone’s life – nobody wants their relative or friend to suffer, and naturally we want to do everything we can to help them get back to health and aid their recovery. Sadly, recovery from a stroke or heart attack is not always plain sailing, which is why we have put together a short guide of everything you need to know. But of course, as with any medical condition, if you have any questions, please do refer to your doctor, or phone 999 immediately if you are concerned your love one might be experiencing a stroke or heart attack.
What you need to know about heart attacks:
Why do heart attacks happen?
Heart attacks occur when the flow of oxygen to the heart stops or is blocked, and the heart is stopped from getting oxygen. Anyone – technically – can have a heart attack, but you are more at risk if you are overweight, smoke, or have high blood pressure or cholesterol. A healthy diet and regular check ups will help reduce the risk of a heart attack, but it’s important to note that nothing can stop them happening altogether, and there are factors you simply can’t avoid; like a family history of heart problems, or age.
What happens after a heart attack?
Life after a heart attack entirely depends on how severe your loved one’s heart attack was. They will likely have to recover in hospital for a while but will eventually be allowed to go home to continue cardiac rehabilitation in comfort.
When someone has a heart attack, it can increase their risk of having another – twenty percent of people who have a heart attack are hospitalised for another within five years. Often the heart is weakened from the first, so the chances of having another are increased slightly. Therefore, it is important to create a plan with your loved one to try and make sure their chances of a second attack are limited. This can involve their intention to return to work or activities, your involvement in their life and how you can aid and assist them, a health plan (for example, a plan to quit smoking and drinking, and to increase nutrition), and to learn the symptoms together, so that if the worst is to happen, you’re prepared for how to react, and know when help should be called. Acting fast when a heart attack strikes can stop it being fatal, so it’s extremely important to know the signs and symptoms.
Your doctor will provide a detailed plan for recovery, but there are a few things anyone who has experienced a heart attack should practice regardless. A person who has recently had a heart attack should only take part in light exercise after the incident, as high intensity workouts or heavy lifting can increase the strain on the heart and makes the possibility of a second heart attack more likely. However, it is recommended that a person who has had a heart attack should partake in light exercise – start at a few minutes a day and build it up as your fitness increases, with the ideal being 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Your loved one should also try to remain a healthy weight, eating what the NHS refers to as a ‘Mediterranean diet’ is recommended – less meat, more bread, fish, fruit and vegetables.
A person who has experienced a heart attack should stop smoking and try not to exceed the recommended alcohol limits. Anything that puts additional strain on the heart must be avoided, and in the weeks after a heart attack, a person must not return to work, drive their car or have sex.
Always talk to your doctor about your specific circumstances and how long is necessary to refrain from these activities, but generally as a rule of thumb, the few weeks after a heart attack should consist of rest, and nothing that increases heart rate too much. It is extremely important that a person who has had a heart attack continues to take any medication their doctor has recommended for them. If your loved one is older, it might be best for you to keep an eye on their medication, in case they were to forget to take it.
What you need to know about strokes:
Why do strokes happen?
A stroke occurs when the supply of blood to the brain is stopped, this can happen because of a blood clot or because a blood vessel in the brain has burst. There are both strokes, and ‘mini strokes’, but all types of stroke should be treated as soon as possible.
What happens after a stroke?
It’s important for you and your loved ones to recognise the signs of a stroke, so that you can get treatment as soon as possible should it happen again – the faster a stroke is treated, the more progress can be made towards recovery. The NHS recommends thinking ‘FAST’, and looking out for the following symptoms;
- Face – the face may have dropped on one side
- Arms – they may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there
- Speech – their speech may be slurred, and they may have difficulty understanding you
- Time – it’s time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.
You and your loved one should work on a plan for their health moving forward. Putting together a health and assistance plan is especially prevalent for victims of a stroke as recovery can be difficult, as sometimes brain damage caused by the stroke sometimes means the person will need permanent care and assistance. This entirely depends on what part of the brain was affected by the stroke – for example, a person may recover mentally, but may be unable to walk, or they may have to relearn things, such as eating and drinking. This plan should account for if help and daily assistance is needed, and for if they cannot return to work or to the activities they love.
Your doctor will give you personalised advice on how to manage life after a stroke, but as the chance of having a second can occur, there are a few things people who have had a stroke can do to reduce their chance of having another. Your relative should endeavour to lead a healthy lifestyle afterwards, maintaining a healthy weight, and if possible, quitting smoking and drinking, as well as regularly exercising, and taking their prescribed medication. Your loved one should also get regular check-ups to ensure their blood pressure and cholesterol remain at healthy levels, to check that they are not at risk of diabetes, and to ensure that they have a healthy heartbeat.
The mental effects of a heart attack or stroke:
Even if your relative makes a full recovery from a stroke or heart attack, such a scary, life changing event can have long lasting mental effects, which in turn can affect their relationship with friends and family.
As a stroke in particular affects the brain, your loved one may display changes in the way they think and act. They may understand things slower, or be confused, as well as having trouble paying attention to or remembering things, and having difficulty thinking and organising. This can also cause changes in their mood and self-awareness; they may feel they are the same before the incident and become frustrated when they cannot do the things they did before. This can cause anger issues and depression, which in turn can cause issues for their relationships.
The best way to help a relative who is experiencing changes due to their condition is to always remain calm and patient – remember their anger or lack of self-awareness is not down to them, but what has happened to them. Encourage them to talk about what happened and to ask questions about their stroke, as they may not feel that people understand the impact it has had on them. You should also try to understand that physical ailments can have a huge impact on mental health – encourage them to open up about it, and if necessary, speak to a doctor about this.
Always ask for help…
When a relative becomes unwell, it’s important to recognise when you need to ask for help, and when assistance could be the best option for them. Hallmark Care Homes have a dedicated team of nurses who carefully assess the needs of each individual and put together a dedicated plan that incorporates the residents medical and ongoing needs, their families wishes and their doctors recommendations, so that you can be sure your loved one is in the best care possible.
If you’d like to speak to a friendly member of the Hallmark team about your loved one’s needs, or about the care that can be provided, please do feel free to get in contact with us – we’re here to answer any questions you may have, so please don’t hesitate to ask.