Heart Attack | Treatment


How is heart attack treated?

Your treatment will depend on what is causing your symptoms. If you have an acute case of angina (chest pain), your doctor will probably give you nitroglycerin. Nitroglycerin can temporarily relieve your symptoms and improve blood flow to your heart. It does that by widening the arteries that carry blood to the heart.

If you are having a heart attack, your doctor may give you a medicine called a thrombolytic, or may choose to do an angiography and possibly an angioplasty or stent. A thrombolytic drug can help dissolve the blood clot that is blocking the coronary artery. An angioplasty is a procedure in which a tiny balloon is inserted through an artery in the arm or leg up to the heart. The balloon pushes open blocked coronary arteries. A small metal rod called a stent might be put into the artery where the blockage was to hold the artery open.

If an angioplasty and/or stenting are not appropriate, you may need coronary artery bypass surgery. This is a major surgery, in which the doctor takes either veins from your legs and/or an artery from your upper body to bypass the blockages in your coronary arteries. Coronary bypass surgery allows blood to flow to the area of the heart past the blockage.

Regardless of the treatment your doctor selects for you, the sooner you get medical help, the greater your chances of surviving a heart attack. Do not delay getting immediate medical attention if you are experiencing symptoms of heart attack.

Treatment of heart attack also includes medicines that you will need to take even after you leave the hospital. These medicines help improve blood flow to your heart, prevent clotting, and reduce the risks of having another heart attack. These medicines include: aspirin, beta blockers, statins, ACE inhibitors and fish oil. Your doctor will prescribe the medicines that are right for you.

If you have had a heart attack, your doctor will also talk to you about lifestyle changes you can make to prevent more heart problems.

What is a cardiac rehabilitation program?

Before you leave the hospital, your doctor will probably talk to you about enrolling in a cardiac rehabilitation program. A cardiac rehabilitation program provides information that will help you understand your risk factors. The program will also guide you to begin a heart-healthy lifestyle that can prevent future heart problems. You will learn about exercise and diet, and how to reach and maintain a healthy weight. You will also learn ways to control your stress level, your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels.

Your cardiac rehabilitation program will probably start while you are still in the hospital. After you leave the hospital, your rehabilitation will continue in a rehab center. The rehab center may be at the hospital or in another location.

Most cardiac rehabilitation programs last 3 to 6 months. Your doctor will talk to you about how often you need to attend the program. Once you enroll in a cardiac rehabilitation program, regular attendance is very important. The more you learn and make changes in your lifestyle to live a heart-healthy life, the better your chances of preventing more heart problems in the future.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff. Portions of this article were written by Susan D. Housholder, RN, MSN, ANP-BC, FAHA.

Reviewed/Updated: 03/14
Created: 09/10