Harvard Men's Health Watch

Returning to work after a heart attack

Q. My 59-year-old husband just came home after being hospitalized for a mild heart attack. He was only in the hospital for five days and he feels great, though he does have to take three prescription medicines plus aspirin. I'm writing because my husband's doctor doesn't want him to go back to work for another six weeks even though his job doesn't involve any lifting. I think the stress of staying home would be worse than going to work. Please advise.

A. The treatment of heart attacks has come a long, long way in the past 30 years. Technology is responsible for many improvements; the outstanding change is that doctors can now open blocked coronary arteries with angioplasty balloons and stents or "clot-busting" drugs. Doctors have also learned how to use stress tests and echocardiograms to classify patients into low-, intermediate-, or high-risk groups at the time of hospital discharge. And most patients go home with a beta blocker, an ACE inhibitor, a statin drug, and low-dose aspirin to reduce the likelihood of another heart attack. Comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation programs can also help.

Although this progress entails additional tests and treatments, it also allows a much faster recovery and return to activity. Not too very long ago, the typical heart attack victim spent weeks in the hospital, much of it on strict bed rest. And I do mean strict; when I was an intern, patients with new heart attacks were not even allowed to feed or shave themselves.

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