Can I still work if I have a heart condition?

Health problems can affect your work without warning. Katherine Woods shares advice from an expert if your condition means you have to seek changes at work - or give it up.

As well as rewarding us financially, employment can shape our identity, build our confidence and broaden our social networks.

Sarah Quinlan, Occupational Therapist at Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, explains that after a heart event, it’s understandable for people to want their life to return to normal as soon as possible.

“The aim for most people is to go back to the job they did before, and with the right support this is often achievable,” she says. However, it’s important to prioritise recovery.

“Going back too early could slow down your recovery, or even make your health worse.”  

Older man at work

Getting support at work

If you’re employed by a person or organisation

“If you’re struggling at work, it’s important to recognise your limitations," says Mrs Quinlan. "If you’re disabled or have a health condition that makes it hard to do your job, your employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments, for example reducing your hours or providing specialist equipment.

“Your cardiac or stroke rehabilitation team, brain injury service or GP may be able to refer you to an occupational therapist, who can help by writing to your employer to explain your condition and request appropriate adjustments for you.”

It's a good idea to talk to your employer well in advance about options for returning. "Have a plan so you can ask for what you need and be ready with solutions to problems that might come up," says Mrs Quinlan.

If you’re self-employed

Mrs Quinlan says: “You may feel financial pressure to return to work quickly, but this could make your health worse and lead to you not being able to work at all. Try relying on savings for longer or ask someone to do some of your duties temporarily. It can be hard to give up control, but it might be your best chance of getting back to a normal routine.

“Talk your options through with someone. Think practically and make a list of possible solutions; pick out the most realistic and list their pros and cons to help you decide on a way forward.”

Fit for Work offers advice on returning to and managing health conditions at work. Visit the Fit for Work website or call 0800 032 6235.

Giving up work because of health problems 

Having to give up work can be difficult to come to terms with, explains Mrs Quinlan, as it’s such a big part of our identity. “Some people find cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT – a type of talking therapy] helps them to accept what’s happened and feel content with their new life,” she suggests. (Ask your GP if you think you might benefit from CBT, or you may be able to refer yourself – check the IAPT page on the NHS website to see if there is a service in your local area.)

If you’ve had to stop work, Mrs Quinlan advises doing something that gives you a sense of achievement, such as exercising, getting involved with support groups or fundraising. “Try something you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t because of a lack of time.”

More useful information