Getting early and effective treatment during and after a heart attack can limit the damage to your heart. Heart attack treatment depends upon the severity of the blockage and the extent of the damage to the muscle.
Early treatment may begin even before a heart attack diagnosis
- A dose of aspirin to thin the blood and prevent further clots
- Nitroglycerin to help ease the work your heart needs to do and to help improve blood flow
- Oxygen therapy
- Treatment for associated chest pain
Once doctors are sure it’s a heart attack, treatment will continue with the goal of restoring blood flow to the heart. The two main treatments to open blocked vessels are:
- Thrombolytic medications, commonly known as clot busters – for best results, these should be given as soon as possible, definitely within a couple hours of the onset of the symptoms
- Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), which is more commonly known as angioplasty
Other treatments may be necessary as well. For example, if the patient is having an arrhythmia, such as ventricular tachycardia or even ventricular fibrillation, the emergency medicine team will need to treat that. Treatments may include defibrillation or cardioversion.
Medications that may be given during or after a heart attack
- ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure and slow down the process that weakens the heart
- Anticoagulants, otherwise known as blood thinners, to prevent clots from forming or getting larger
- Beta blockers to decrease the workload the heart needs to do, to relieve chest pain, to help prevent another heart attack, and to treat irregular heartbeats
- Statins to help control and lower blood cholesterol, which can reduce the chances of a future heart attack or stroke
- Anti-arrhythmics to treat certain arrhythmias
- Pain relievers
- Medication to help reduce anxiety
Is there anything a person can do (other than call 911) to minimize damage?
If you’re at home and have symptoms of a heart attack, you should call 911 right away. Don’t wait and hope the pain will go away. The sooner you get help, the better your chances will be of surviving and limiting the damage to your heart.
While you’re waiting for help to arrive, there are other things you can do. You should chew an aspirin and swallow it (as long as you’re not allergic to aspirin). It will taste horrible, but it could save your life. If you have been prescribed nitroglycerin, take that too. If you’re with someone who’s having a heart attack and is unconscious, start CPR. If there is a defibrillator around, have someone else run to get it while you administer CPR. Defibrillators are easy to use, and they all come with instructions. Some 911 operators may talk to you and tell you what to do.
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Medical procedures heart surgeons may use to treat heart attacks
If the heart attack is severe, the doctors may perform surgery. The most common emergency surgery doctors perform to treat heart attacks is percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). During PCI, doctors are able to see inside the arteries to look for the location of the blockage that’s causing the heart attack. Once that blockage is found, heart surgeons can take steps to treat it. Often, doctors will insert a stent to keep the artery open after the surgery.
Another surgery often done after a heart attack is a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG). This surgery helps restore blood flow to the heart muscle through the coronary arteries by routing blood vessels around the blocked area.
If the heart valves or muscle are damaged, other surgeries may be necessary as well, such as valve repair or replacement surgery.
Heart attack treatments for after you leave the hospital
When you’re discharged from the hospital, your treatment will continue. Your treatment plan will depend on the severity of your heart attack, the extent of the damage your heart muscle incurred, and your other health conditions. Make sure you follow all of your discharge instructions and your doctor’s recommendations. How well your recovery goes and what your chances are for a successful, long-term recovery are, to great extent, under your control. Here are some tips to follow after you leave the hospital:
- Follow your doctor’s recommendations.
- If you have any symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, call 911 right away. If you feel off or have questions or concerns, call your doctor’s office.
- Take it easy, but do get some exercise every day. Talk to your doctor about what type of exercises you should and shouldn’t do and how long you should exercise each day.
- Take all of your medication as prescribed.
- Follow a heart-healthy lifestyle.
- Eat a healthy diet. Make an appointment with a dietitian if you aren’t sure how to make positive changes.
- Stay active, but do so within the guidelines your doctor provides.
- Take steps to reduce stress and manage stress you can’t avoid.
- Quit smoking and stay away from second-hand smoke.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, talk to your doctor about a safe weight reduction plan.
- Talk to your doctor about whether a cardiac rehabilitation plan is right for you.
- Consider joining a support group for heart attack and heart surgery survivors.
Rehabilitation following a heart attack
Your rehabilitation begins in the hospital and will continue for at least a year. The initial rehabilitation period after a heart attack will most likely last between six and eight weeks. You should expect to be about 80% recovered by that time. But the last 20 percent of your recovery will be slower. It’s a process, but if you follow your treatment plan and keep in touch with your doctor, you should have a successful recovery.
Whether you have surgery after your heart attack or not, you will still need to take medication, follow-up with your doctor and make some lifestyle changes. Your doctor may also recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program. We covered the lifestyle changes briefly above. They may seem challenging, but they’re worth it. Changing your lifestyle may even help you reverse some health conditions. For example, making changes to your lifestyle, diet and exercise routine can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar – all of which can improve your heart health and have a positive effect on your quality of life.
The Beaumont difference
Beaumont is a world leader in heart innovation. Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak has been ranked as one of the top cardiac and heart surgery programs in the nation for 22 consecutive years. We have specialized heart care centers throughout Metro Detroit that offer technologies to care for even the sickest patients.
Start your search at Beaumont. Find a Beaumont cardiologist, heart surgeon or cardiothoracic surgeon near you.