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Returning to work

Most people can go back to work after a heart attack – within two to four weeks after leaving hospital. This depends on the type of work, the severity of your heart attack and your recovery progress.

Plan your rehabilitation

It's worth taking some time to think about how your heart condition will affect you in the workplace. Will you be able to do exactly the same sort of work you used to do? Will you need to work fewer hours? Will you need to learn new skills?

Your doctor or specialist will be able to advise you when you will be well enough to return to your work and they'll also provide you with a medical certificate.

It's common to want to get back to work as quickly as you can after a heart attack, so you can get back in your normal routines. Being at work is beneficial to your mental and physical recovery. However, it's important not to push yourself to get back to your normal routine too quickly as this can make your recovery longer.

It's common to feel tired when you get back to work after your heart attack. Before you return to work, it can be helpful to include the types of activity you do at work in your home physical activity programme. This will help you settle back into your work activities easier. Talk to your cardiac specialist nurse about how to do this safely.

Talk to your employer

Make sure you talk to your employer about any medical and recovery advice your doctor or healthcare team has given you and discuss the details of your medical certificate with them. Your medical certificate may indicate, for example that you’re not fit for work for a period of time, or that you may be fit for work under certain conditions, such as:

  • phased return to work
  • altered hours
  • change in work duties.

If you have a job that involves light duties, such as administration work and you’re recovering well, you will probably be able to go back to work sooner than if your job involves more physical duties, such as heavy lifting or the use of heavy equipment.

If you have a job that requires this type of manual work and your GP has told you to avoid this, speak to your employer. They may be able to temporarily change your role or workload until your GP says you can return to your previous role.

Is my job too stressful for my heart?

It's common to be concerned that your job could have caused your heart attack by putting you under too much stress.

Stress has not been shown to be a primary risk factor for a heart attack, but being stressed can encourage lifestyle choices that do increase your risk of having a heart attack such as smoking, eating badly and missing out on exercise. Start making healthier choices.

Your body reacts to stress by releasing a hormone called adrenaline. If you are under frequent or chronic stress, you will have constantly high levels of adrenaline in your body. In the long-term, this can raise your blood pressure and increase your heart rate. Learning to practice deep breathing and relaxation may help you to do your job with less stress.

Driving for work

If driving is part of your employment and you hold a vocational license or drive passenger vehicles, trucks, forklifts, courier vans or fly aeroplanes, you can apply to start again four weeks after your heart attack. You will need to have an assessment by a specialist before returning to driving. Find out more about driving after a heart attack.

If your employer has an occupational health department, they can give you further help and advice about returning to work, such as determining what workload is suitable. They may also offer counselling.

Alternative jobs or early retirement

Sometimes after having a heart attack, you may decide to look for a different job. Volunteering can be a good step to help you ease into a different line of work.

If finances could be a problem while you're job seeking, it's worth getting in touch with Work and Income (WINZ) as soon as you can because there's sometimes a stand down period before they will offer financial support. Find out more about support available from WINZ.

If early retirement is an option for you, it may be something to consider.

Early retirement is not a light decision to make and it is important that it's made for the right reasons. Don't make this decision based solely on fear and anxiety as there are financial and social consequences to consider.

If you are thinking of an early retirement as a result of your heart attack, talk to your doctor or health professional as they may be able to offer advice.

Recovering from a heart attack can put stress on your finances. Find out ways to manage your money, how to get help if you've got into financial difficulty and where to get advice on legal matters.

Ways to manage your money