Key Takeaways

    • It is normal (and expected) to experience new physical, emotional, and cognitive issues after cardiac arrest
    • You may experience fatigue upon returning home, particularly after returning to work. This usually improves within months.
    • You may develop feelings of anxiety, sadness, or PTSD. A mental health professional may be helpful in navigating these emotions.
    • You may feel overwhelmed when performing daily life tasks. Organizing them into to-do lists can be helpful and ease some of the associated anxiety.
You’ve survived cardiac arrest… Now what?

One of the biggest challenges after surviving cardiac arrest is not knowing what to expect after leaving the hospital. Survivors have reported multiple symptoms that can occur as a result of this experience. Please keep in mind that it does not mean you will experience all the symptoms listed here. We hope this information helps on the days that you feel uncertain because a new symptom or challenge has arisen.

Physical issues

You might feel fatigued after leaving the hospital and probably need help completing the tasks you used to do on your own (showering, doing chores, taking care of pets and children, climbing stairs, etc.). You may have muscle weakness, pain from procedures or chest compressions, or limited use of one or more of your limbs. You might have been evaluated by rehabilitation therapists in the hospital and prescribed a rehab program, which you should follow as instructed. 

You should expect to need to take some time off work; going home is your first step to recovery, and it can be a very daunting and challenging time in your life and your close family member’s life. This is to be expected. Most survivors’ energy and physical limitations improve within months. 

Once you return to work, you may feel more fatigued than usual. We recommend taking it easy at first! Listen to your body, and rest when you believe it’s needed; your brain, mind, and body are still healing from cardiac arrest, and it can take several months to recover

Emotional issues

Cardiac arrest can, and most likely will, create some emotional issues and new emotional needs. You just went through a traumatic and emotionally taxing experience that very few people live to talk about (remember, only ~11% survive! You are part of such a small group). 

You may develop some feelings of anxiety, fear, and sadness which may be new to you and extremely difficult to process and understand. Please know this: it is very normal to feel this way! Studies have shown that a significant number of survivors will experience one or several of these symptoms at some point in their recovery. Yes, they are expected. You may experience them right after returning home, or even several months later, once you return to your daily routine. 

Unexpected situations may trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) including these negative feelings and intrusive thoughts, especially if you are part of a group that remembers the events during their cardiac arrest. Talking to a mental health professional or therapist can help you navigate these changing feelings throughout your recovery process and provide you with the necessary tools to manage them and move forward.

Cognitive issues

Post-cardiac arrest, you may experience some memory issues, particularly regarding the first days or months after the event. Some people might report remembering the events during their cardiac arrest (which in and of itself can be very traumatic) but cannot remember their hospital stay. Others report short-term memory problems that usually improve within months to a year (granted, some people might take longer). 

You might experience other issues like trouble finding the words you want to say, or slower thinking, which can be very frustrating, especially if it has been several months since your cardiac arrest. Again, this is all very normal and to be expected. Your brain is still healing, and it needs time and rest. Rehabilitation specialists, such as occupational therapists or speech-language pathologists, may be helpful for providing strategies to overcome difficulty with communication and thinking. Talk to your medical care team about a referral for evaluation and treatment.

Chest pain

Many cardiac arrest survivors experience chest pain after they leave the hospital, likely from the chest compressions they were given to restart their heart. This is completely normal and should improve within several weeks. You should also tell your medical care team if your chest pain is severe, so they can prescribe pain medications that will help control the pain once you are at home. Remember, this is not the time to “power through”; your body needs to heal, and helping it alleviate the pain is paramount to your recovery.

Feeling easily overwhelmed

Tasks and activities that were once no big deal may feel like they are more difficult to navigate and more stressful. This can include projects or tasks assigned at work; normal daily activities like grocery shopping, completing chores etc.; or even things like planning trips or social outings. Recognizing and accepting that this is normal is a good first step. Organizing tasks into to-do lists can be helpful. If you feel you can’t complete a task or don’t feel up to it, parking it on a list and knowing it won’t be forgotten but can be completed later can help. If it’s possible, being honest with your family and/or partner and asking for their help with certain tasks can alleviate some of the stress.

Thank you to our contributors

Samantha Fernandez & Katrysha Gellis

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