Heart Attack Treatment

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What is a heart attack?

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A heart attack (also known as a myocardial infarction or MI) is the death of heart muscle from the sudden blockage by a blood clot in a coronary artery that supplies blood to the heart. Blockage of a coronary artery deprives the heart muscle of blood and oxygen, causing injury to the heart muscle. Injury to the heart muscle causes chest pain and pressure. If blood flow is not restored within 20 to 40 minutes, irreversible death of the heart muscle will begin to occur. Muscle continues to die for 6 to 8 hours at which time the heart attack usually is "complete." The dead heart muscle is replaced by scar tissue.

Click here to view interactive photos of hearts that have suffered a heart attack.

How is a heart attack treated?

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Treatment of heart attacks includes:

  • Antiplatelet medications to prevent formation of blood clots in the arteries
  • Anticoagulant medications to prevent growth of blood clots in the arteries
  • Coronary angiography with either percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) with or without stenting to open blocked coronary arteries
  • Clot-dissolving medications to open blocked arteries
  • Supplemental oxygen to increase the supply of oxygen to the heart's muscle
  • Medications to decrease the need for oxygen by the heart's muscle
  • Medications to prevent abnormal heart rhythms
  • Cardiac surgery

The primary goal of treatment is to quickly open the blocked artery and restore blood flow to the heart muscle, a process called reperfusion. Once the artery is open, damage to heart muscle ceases, and pain improves. By minimizing the extent of heart muscle damage, early reperfusion preserves the pumping function of the heart. Optimal benefit is obtained if reperfusion can be established within the first 4 to 6 hours of a heart attack. Delay in establishing reperfusion can result in more widespread damage to heart muscle and a greater reduction in the ability of the heart to pump blood. Patients with hearts that are unable to pump sufficient blood develop heart failure, decreased ability to exercise, and abnormal heart rhythms. Thus, the amount of healthy heart muscle remaining after a heart attack is the most important determinant of the future quality of life and longevity.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/20/2014

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Heart Attack - Symptoms Question: What were your heart attack symptoms?
Heart Attack - Treatment Question: Please describe your experience with heart attack Treatment.
Heart Attack Treatment - Aspirin Question: Do you take aspirin to prevent a first or second heart attack? Please share your experience.
Heart Attack Treatment - Types of Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment, procedures, surgeries, or medications have you received after experiencing a heart attack?
Heart Attack Treatment - Angiography or Angioplasty Question: Please discuss your experience with coronary angiography and PTCA.
Heart Attack Treatment - Coronary Artery Bypass Question: Did you have coronary artery bypass surgery? Please share your story.
Heart Attack Treatment - Preventing a Second Attack Question: If you've had a heart attack, what lifestyle changes have you made to prevent a second heart attack?
Heart Attack Warning Signs

Heart Attack Treatment Options

What is the Treatment For Heart Attack?

The 2013 ACCF/AHA guidelines for treatment of a heart attack are summarized as follows:

  1. Ideally, transport patient to a PCI capable hospital; if not PCI capable, transfer patient as soon as possible and less than 120 min; if anticipated transfer is more than 120 min, give fibrinolytic agent within 30 min of arrival
  2. Send to cath lab
  3. Diagnostic angiogram
  4. PCI (Percutaneous Coronary Intervention) also termed stenting or stent placement
  5. If reocclusion occurs or perfusion fails in a patient given a fibrinolytic, arrange transfer to a PCI capable facility; for other patients treated with a fibrinolytic, transfer to a PCI facility within about 3-24hrs
  6. If step 5 occurs, step 3 should follow at a PCI capable facility were either medical therapy, a PCI or a CABG should be done Patients who are not candidates for PCI therapy usually undergo medical or surgical (CABG) therapy. For a more detailed presentation of the medical treatments and CABG, read the heart attack treatment article.