New Study Finds Getting Back to Work After a Heart Attack Is Beneficial

You do have to take it easy, but you're not down for the count.

If you've suffered a heart attack, you've probably had friends and family members tell you that you should "take it easy" from now on, or even retire and slow down. But if all you want to do is get back to your normal routine, we've got some good news for you. According to new research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, going back to work following a cardiac event is not only feasible, it's also beneficial.

"Patients who believe they can still do their job and want to go back will make a success of it," the lead author of the study, Dr. Rona Reibis of University of Potsdam, Germany, said in a press release. "After a heart attack, it is very rare for patients to be physically unable to perform their previous duties, including heavy work."

Reibis and her colleagues drew this conclusion after reviewing more than 70 studies related to the rehabilitation process for patients who've experienced acute coronary syndrome (ACS). They wanted to assess how to best help people who have experienced a heart attack resume their normal lives. Their findings showed that the large majority of patients who had suffered a heart attack—between 67 and 93 percent—resumed working within the first two or three months.

But after a year, one in four quit their jobs. Women over the age of 55 and blue collar workers were the most likely to step away from their jobs, which the researchers attribute to physical factors and gender stereotypes, as well. "There is still the traditional idea that the man must go back to work because he is the breadwinner," Reibis said. "Women can be reintegrated, but it depends on whether they want to. Added to that, women tend to have more doubts about their ability to perform their prior tasks—particularly blue collar roles. Well-educated women with white collar jobs don't have this problem."

Unsurprisingly, the primary reason that many of these patients don't return to work is because they don't want to. One of the silver linings of a near-death experience is that it often encourages people to reassess how they want to live their lives. But the researchers say that if you do want to get back into the swing of things, there's no reason not to (unless it's doctor's orders, of course).

Reibis also has some suggestions for how to approach going back to work after a heart attack. First and foremost, don't change jobs. "Return to the job you know," Reibis said. "Patients who had a relatively small heart attack with complete restoration of blood flow, are consistently taking their medication, and don't have an implanted device can do their work as before without any precautions."

Secondly, if you find yourself struggling, try cutting back at work instead of deciding you're no longer fit for employment. "During the first couple of months, if you are not able to keep up with the workload, change it," Reibis said. "Don't wait until it becomes unmanageable and you have to quit. And try to reduce stress, for example by giving up some responsibilities for half a year."

Finally, make sure to continuously follow up with your doctor and your employer on your medical condition. A lot of people may feel uncomfortable disclosing something so sensitive to their managers, or worry that they'll be treated differently as a result. But having a heart attack is nothing to be ashamed of—especially given that it happens more than 735,000 times per year. Being upfront about how you're feeling with yourself and with others will make the rehabilitation as smooth as possible.

And, if you're a woman, take note of the fact that women are dangerously slow at recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack. For more on the signs women in particular should watch out for, check out this Nurse's Viral Tweet On How Heart Attack Symptoms Are Different for Women.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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