Skip to main content

Recovery - Heart attack

Recovering from a heart attack can take several months, and it's very important not to rush your rehabilitation.

During your recovery period, you'll receive help and support from a range of healthcare professionals, which may include:

  • nurses
  • physiotherapists
  • dietitians
  • pharmacists
  • exercise specialists

These healthcare professionals will support you physically and mentally to ensure your recovery is conducted safely and appropriately.

The recovery process usually happens in stages, starting in hospital, where your condition can be closely monitored and your individual needs for the future can be assessed.

After being discharged from hospital, you can continue your recovery at home.

The 2 most important aims of the recovery process are:

  • to gradually restore your physical fitness so you can resume normal activities (known as cardiac rehabilitation)
  • to reduce your risk of another heart attack

Cardiac rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation, or cardiac rehab, is a programme to help you recover and get back to living your life after a recent heart attack or heart failure. It's an important part of your recovery.

How to access cardiac rehabilitation

A member of the cardiac rehab team may visit you in hospital with information about your condition or the procedure you're having. After you leave hospital, they may visit you at home or call you to check on your progress.

You do not need a referral from your cardiologist. You can also:

  • contact your local cardiac team – you can call the British Heart Foundation's Heart Helpline on 0808 802 1234 for help finding your nearest cardiac rehab programme
  • contact your GP surgery to find out how to register for cardiac rehab

Cardiac rehab programmes are available locally, often in weekly sessions that last 6 to 12 weeks. You may be able to choose between group classes, online classes or a home programme.

How cardiac rehabilitation can help

Research has found that people who attend cardiac rehab have a lower risk of having another heart attack and being admitted to hospital. It also had a positive impact on their wellbeing and quality of life.

Your local cardiac rehab service can give you more details about what they offer, but most programmes will cover:

  • physical activities that are suitable for you
  • educational talks about managing your condition, taking medicines and other practical advice
  • relaxation techniques and how to manage stress
  • psychological support for anxiety and low mood

Your cardiac rehab team will tailor the programme to suit your age, fitness level and any other medical issues.

Further information


Once you return home, it's usually recommended that you rest and only do light activities, such as walking up and down the stairs a few times a day or taking a short walk.

Gradually increase the amount of activity you do each day over several weeks. How quickly you can do this will depend on the condition of your heart and your general health.

Your care team can provide more detailed advice about a plan to increase your activity levels.

Your rehabilitation programme should contain a range of different exercises, depending on your age and ability. 

Most of the exercises will be aerobic. These are designed to strengthen your heart, improve circulation and lower blood pressure.

Examples of aerobic exercises include riding an exercise bike, jogging on a treadmill and swimming.

Returning to work

Most people can return to work after having a heart attack, but how quickly will depend on your health, the state of your heart and the kind of work you do.

Your care team will provide a more detailed prediction of how long it will be before you can return to work.


According to the British Heart Foundation, you're usually able to start having sex again once you feel well enough, usually about 4 to 6 weeks after having a heart attack.

Having sex will not put you at further risk of having another heart attack.

Following a heart attack, some men have erectile dysfunction, which may make having sex difficult. This is most commonly due to anxiety and the emotional stress associated with having a heart attack.

Less commonly, erectile dysfunction is a side effect of a heart medicine called beta blockers.

If you experience erectile dysfunction, speak to a GP. They may be able to prescribe treatment or offer advice. For example, you may be prescribed medicine such as sildenafil which stimulates the flow of blood to the penis and makes it easier to get an erection. But these treatments may not be suitable for everyone.


If you drive a car or motorcycle and you have a heart attack, you do not have to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

Many people can now return to driving 1 week after a heart attack, as long you do not have any other condition or complication that would disqualify you from driving.

But in some cases, you may need to stop driving for 4 weeks.

Your doctor or rehabilitation team should advise how long you must wait before driving after your heart attack.

If you drive a large goods vehicle or passenger-carrying vehicle, you must inform the DVLA if you have a heart attack.

Your licence will be temporarily suspended, for a minimum of 6 weeks, until you have adequately recovered.

Your licence will be reissued if you can pass a basic health and fitness test and do not have any other condition that would disqualify you from driving.


Having a heart attack can be frightening and traumatic, and it's common to have feelings of anxiety afterwards.

For many people, the emotional stresses can cause them to feel depressed and tearful for a few weeks after returning home from hospital.

If feelings of depression persist, speak to a GP, as you may have a more serious form of depression.

It's important to seek advice as serious types of depression often do not get better without treatment.

Your emotional state could also have an adverse effect on your physical recovery.

Reducing your risk

Reducing your risk of having another heart attack involves making lifestyle changes and taking different medicines long term. See preventing heart attacks for more information.


There are currently 4 types of medicines widely used to reduce the risk of a heart attack:

  • angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • anti-platelets
  • beta blockers
  • statins

ACE inhibitors

ACE inhibitors are often used to lower blood pressure, as they block the actions of some of the hormones that help regulate blood pressure.

By stopping these hormones from working, the medicine helps to reduce the amount of water in your blood and also widens your arteries, both of which will reduce your blood pressure.

ACE inhibitors have been known to reduce the supply of blood to the kidneys, which can reduce their efficiency. This means blood and urine tests may be done before you start taking ACE inhibitors to make sure there are no pre-existing problems with your kidneys.

Regular blood and urine tests may be required if you continue to take ACE inhibitors. This is usually once a year, but you may have them more often if there are signs of kidney problems.

The side effects of ACE inhibitors can include:

  • dizziness
  • tiredness or weakness
  • headaches
  • a persistent, dry cough

You'll be monitored regularly when you start taking ACE inhibitors. The dose can be adjusted until you find an amount that is suitable for you.

If ACE inhibitors are taken with other types of medicines, including over-the-counter medicines, they can cause unpredictable side effects.

Check with a GP or pharmacist before taking any other medicines if you are taking an ACE inhibitor.

It's usually recommended that you begin taking ACE inhibitors immediately after having a heart attack and, in most cases, continue taking them indefinitely.

Some people cannot take ACE inhibitors. If this is the case, a related medicine called an angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB) may be prescribed as an alternative.


Antiplatelets are medicines that help prevent blood clots. They work by reducing the "stickiness" of platelets, which are tiny particles in the blood that help it to clot.

It's usually recommended that you take low-dose aspirin, which has blood-thinning properties.

You're also likely to be given additional antiplatelet medicines, such as clopidogrel, prasugrel or ticagrelor.

Clopidogrel can also be used if you're allergic to aspirin.

Side effects of antiplatelets can include:

If you experience troublesome side effects from aspirin or other antiplatelet medicine, you should contact a GP for advice.

Treatment with antiplatelets usually begins immediately after a heart attack.

You will take antiplatelet medicines for usually up to 12 months.

But it's usually recommended that you take low-dose aspirin indefinitely.

Do not suddenly stop taking the medicines, as this could increase your risk of another heart attack.

Antiplatelet medicines can increase the risk of bleeding.

You may occasionally also be prescribed another blood-thinning medicine called warfarin, which increases your risk of bleeding more.

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following side effects:

You must also seek immediate medical attention if you:

  • are involved in major trauma (an accident)
  • experience a head injury
  • are unable to stop any bleeding

Beta blockers

Beta blockers are a type of medicine used to protect the heart from further damage after a heart attack.

They help to relax the heart's muscles so the heart beats slower and blood pressure drops, both of which will reduce the strain on your heart.

It's usually recommended that you begin treatment with beta blockers as soon as your condition stabilises, and continue taking them indefinitely.

Common side effects of beta blockers include:

  • tiredness
  • cold hands and feet
  • a slow heartbeat
  • diarrhoea
  • feeling sick
  • difficulty sleeping or nightmares
  • inability to obtain or maintain an erection (erectile dysfunction, or impotence)

If you experience troublesome side effects from beta blockers, you should contact a GP for advice.

Beta blockers can also interact with other medicines, causing possible adverse side effects.

Check with a GP or pharmacist before taking any other medicines, including over-the-counter medicine, in combination with beta blockers.


Statins are a type of medicine used to reduce blood cholesterol.

This helps to prevent further fatty build-up in your coronary arteries and should reduce the risk of another heart attack.

Statins block the effects of an enzyme in your liver called HMG-CoA reductase, which is used to make cholesterol.

Statins sometimes have mild side effects, including:

Occasionally, statins can cause muscle pain, weakness and tenderness.

Contact a GP if you experience these symptoms, as your dosage may need to be adjusted.

Statins can interact with other medicines, and you're usually advised to avoid grapefruit juice.

It's usually recommended that you take statins indefinitely.

Getting help

Everyone who experiences a heart attack will face different problems and challenges, and any guidance or advice you receive will be tailored to your needs.

There are many local and national cardiac support groups where you can meet people who have been through a similar experience.

The British Heart Foundation's heart helpline offers confidential information about your recovery and advice about how to keep your heart healthy.

Call the helpline on 0300 330 3322 from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Further information

Video: keep healthy with 150 minutes of exercise a week

In this video people describe what exercise they do, including cycling, running and swimming.

Media last reviewed: 3 August 2021
Media review due: 3 August 2024

Page last reviewed: 13 July 2023
Next review due: 13 July 2026