It's never too late to take steps to prevent a heart attack — even if you've already had one. Taking medications can reduce your risk of a subsequent heart attack and help your damaged heart function better. Lifestyle factors also play a critical role in heart attack prevention and recovery.

Medications

Doctors typically prescribe drug therapy for people who've had a heart attack or who are at high risk of having one. Medications that help the heart function more effectively or reduce heart attack risk may include:

  • Blood-thinning medications. Aspirin makes your blood platelets less "sticky" and likely to clot. Doctors recommend an aspirin dose between 81 and 325 mg daily for people who've had a heart attack unless they have had an allergic reaction to aspirin or some other serious reason not to take it. If your doctor hasn't recommended that you take a daily aspirin, check with your doctor to find out why.

    Doctors may prescribe aspirin and an anti-clotting drug, such as clopidogrel (Plavix), for people undergoing an angioplasty or stent procedure to open narrowed coronary arteries, both before and after the procedure.

    If you're already taking aspirin due to a previous heart attack or to help prevent a heart attack, be aware that taking these blood thinners and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) at the same time may increase the risk of gastrointestinal problems and may interfere with the heart benefits of aspirin. If you need to take a pain-relieving medication for certain conditions, such as arthritis, discuss with your doctor which pain reliever is best for you.

  • Beta blockers. These drugs lower your heart rate and blood pressure, reducing demand on your heart and helping to prevent further heart attacks. But, these medications can't be given to people with asthma, slow heart rates, low blood pressure or heart failure.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. Doctors prescribe ACE inhibitors for most people after heart attacks, especially for those who have had a moderate to severe heart attack that has reduced the heart's pumping capacity. These drugs allow blood to flow from your heart more easily.
  • Cholesterol-lowering medications. Medications called statins can help lower your levels of unwanted blood cholesterol. Many people who've had a heart attack take cholesterol-lowering medications to help lower the risk of a subsequent heart attack.

Lifestyle changes

In addition to medications, the same lifestyle changes that can help you recover from a heart attack can also help prevent future heart attacks. These include:

  • Not smoking
  • Controlling certain conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
  • Staying physically active
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing and managing stress
May. 15, 2013