Coping With Heart Disease

Over the past few decades, modern medicine has made major strides in treating all forms of heart disease, and people who have heart disease today are living much longer, much happier lives than similar people did in previous generations. But enjoying the very best outcomes if you have heart disease depends on more than just what your healthcare providers do for you.

To a very large extent, it depends on what you do for yourself. Because living well with heart disease takes some effort. 

If you have been told you have heart disease, there’s a lot you will need to think about, and a lot you will need to do. You will need to learn as much as you can about your heart disease and about the treatments your healthcare provider has prescribed. You will have to learn what symptoms to watch out for. And, you very likely will have to make some lifestyle changes that might be challenging.

It is the people who do all these things—who take personal control over their own wellbeing—who live the longest, healthiest lives with heart disease.

Senior woman suffering from heartburn or chest discomfort symptoms
dragana991 / Getty Images

Know Your Heart Disease

“Heart disease” is a pretty nonspecific term. There are many different kinds of heart disease, and most types will show a tremendous amount of variability from person to person in symptoms, severity, treatment, and prognosis.

So one of the most important things you will need to do is learn as much as you can about your particular disease, about the nature of the problem you have, and about what you can do to slow or even stop its progression. The more knowledge you have, the more you will be able to partner with your healthcare provider in making the decisions about your care that are right for you.

The most common types of heart disease are:

In addition to learning whatever you can about your disease, you should also learn all you can about any other medical conditions you may have, since these can have a big impact on your outcomes. There are many disorders that particularly impact heart disease, but the two most common are diabetes and hypertension. You should talk with your healthcare provider about this aspect of your medical care.

Heart Disease Healthcare Provider Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Man

Learn About Symptoms

Symptoms that accompany heart disease are important for two reasons.

First, of course, symptoms by their very nature are unpleasant and disturbing, and a chief goal of treating any medical problem is to minimize or eliminate them.

But second, noticing symptoms can provide an important clue—to you and your healthcare provider—that your cardiac condition may be changing. They can alert both of you that perhaps something needs to be done to get things back on a stable path.

So ignoring a change in your symptoms, hoping they will go away, is a bad idea. It can result in a permanent worsening of your heart problem.

For this reason, it is important to know what symptoms you should be watching for with your heart disease and to report them to your healthcare provider if you experience any of them.

Different forms of heart disease can cause different kinds of symptoms. But the most common symptoms caused by heart disease include:

All of these symptoms are potentially very important, and should never be ignored. If you experience any of them, you need to talk to your healthcare provider about it.

Adjust Your Lifestyle

Many aspects of our lifestyles affect our heart health. There may be some particular lifestyle measures you should take that will be especially important for the heart disease you have.

In general, there are several lifestyle adjustments we should all make for the sake of our hearts. These include:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Quit smoking
  • Learn to manage stress

About Exercise

Cardiologists are learning more every day about the importance of exercise for people who have heart disease. For many people exercise may, in fact, be the best medicine.

Be sure to discuss exercise with your healthcare provider, to learn what forms might be the most advantageous for people with your kind of heart disease, and how to safely get started. For many people, beginning with a formal cardiac rehabilitation program is the best way to begin.

About Stress

It is now pretty clear that certain kinds of emotional stress are potentially damaging to the heart. But since stress is a normal part of life, advising people to avoid stress is almost never helpful. Instead, you should learn techniques for coping with the stress you cannot avoid.

Take Charge of Medications

Medications are involved in many of the remarkable heart disease treatment advances we have seen in recent decades. So, it is extraordinarily likely that your healthcare provider will have prescribed at least a few of these medicines for you. 

Especially when it comes to heart medicines, it is extremely important that you take them regularly and on time. There are many tips and techniques for taking medicine without missing doses or taking too much. You should find a system for doing so that works for you, and stick to it.

Personal Technology

Personal electronic technology being developed by several companies promises to be of help to many people with heart disease. A few of these technologies are already widely available and may be helpful to you. These include:

  • Automated home blood pressure monitoring devices
  • Wireless scales that can record and store your weight over time
  • Activity monitors that encourage you to remain active, such as Fitbit or Apple Watch
  • Heart rate monitors that can alert you if your heart rate exceeds some determined threshold, such as the Apple Watch

Support Groups

It should be clear that, sometimes, living well with heart disease can present a real challenge. To deal with this kind of challenge it can be very helpful to join groups of people who are going through the same thing, who are facing the same difficulties, and who have found different techniques to cope. 

You should check with your healthcare provider (or look on the website of a local hospital) about local support groups for people with heart disease, and consider joining one. The American Heart Association website can also help you find local support groups, as well as online groups you might find helpful.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is heart disease a lifelong condition?

    Sometimes. Heart disease is an umbrella term for many conditions that affect the heart, some of which are lifelong conditions. Congenital heart disease, for example, is present at birth and can cause lifelong problems. Cardiovascular disease progresses throughout life, but it can be slowed or sometimes reversed with lifestyle changes and treatment.

  • Why do so many people have cardiovascular disease?

    Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are the top three risk factors for heart disease. Having diabetes, being overweight or obese, eating an unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise, and excessive alcohol use also increase the risk of heart disease.

  • How can I help a loved one with heart disease?

    If someone you love has been diagnosed with heart disease, you can support them in making healthy lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, and exercising, and helping them to reduce stress. You can encourage them to get medical care and stick with treatment, and help with keeping track of medications and appointments.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Velagaleti R & Vasan R. Heart Failure in the 21st Century: Is it a Coronary Artery Disease Problem or Hypertension Problem? Cardiol Clin. 2007;25(4):487-v. doi:10.1016/j.ccl.2007.08.010

  2. Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Warning signs and symptoms of heart disease. In: A.D.A.M. Multimedia Encyclopedia.

  3. Steptoe A, Kivimäki M. Stress and cardiovascular disease: an update on current knowledgeAnnu Rev Public Health. 2013;34:337-354. doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031912-114452

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease facts.  

Additional Reading
  • Berry JD, Dyer A, Cai X, et al. Lifetime Risks Of Cardiovascular Disease. N Engl J Med 366:321.

  • Held C, Iqbal R, Lear SA, et al. Physical Activity Levels, Ownership Of Goods Promoting Sedentary Behaviour And Risk Of Myocardial Infarction: Results Of The INTERHEART Study. Eur Heart J 33:452.

  • Laslett LJ, Alagona P Jr, Clark BA 3rd, et al. The Worldwide Environment Of Cardiovascular Disease: Prevalence, Diagnosis, Therapy, And Policy Issues: A Report From The American College of Cardiology. J Am Coll Cardiol 60:S1.

By Richard N. Fogoros, MD
Richard N. Fogoros, MD, is a retired professor of medicine and board-certified in internal medicine, clinical cardiology, and clinical electrophysiology.