Heart Attack (cont.)

How Is a Heart Attack Treated?

Once heart attack is diagnosed, treatment begins immediately -- possibly in the ambulance or emergency room. Medications and surgical procedures are used to treat a heart attack.

What Medications Are Used to Treat a Heart Attack?

The goals of medication therapy are to break up or prevent blood clots, prevent platelets from gathering and sticking to the plaque, stabilize the plaque and prevent further ischemia.

These medications must be given as soon as possible (within one to two hours from the start of your heart attack) to decrease the amount of heart damage. The longer the delay in starting these drugs, the more damage can occur and the less benefit they can provide.

Medications for this purpose may include:

  • Aspirin to prevent blood clotting that may worsen the heart attack.
  • Antiplatelets to prevent blood clotting.
  • Thrombolytic therapy ("clot busters") to dissolve any blood clots that are present in the heart's arteries.
  • Any combination of the above

Other drugs, given during or after a heart attack, lessen your heart's work, improve the functioning of the heart, widen or dilate your blood vessels, decrease your pain and guard against any life-threatening heart rhythms .

What Other Treatment Options Are There?

During or shortly after a heart attack, you may go to the cardiac catheterization laboratory for direct evaluation of the status of your heart, arteries and the amount of heart damage. In some cases, procedures (such as angioplasty or stents ) are used to open up your narrowed or blocked arteries. These procedures may be combined with thrombolytic therapy (drug treatments) to open up the narrowed arteries, as well as to break up any clots that are blocking them.

If necessary, bypass surgery may be performed to restore the heart muscle's supply of blood.

Treatments (medications, open heart surgery and interventional procedures, like angioplasty) do not cure coronary artery disease. Having had a heart attack or treatment does not mean you will never have another heart attack; it can happen again. But, there are several steps you can take to prevent further attacks.

How Are Subsequent Heart Attacks Prevented?

The goal after your heart attack is to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risks of having another heart attack. Your best bet to ward off future attacks are to take your medications, change your lifestyle, and see you doctor for regular heart checkups.

Why Do I Need to Take Medicine After a Heart Attack?

Medications are prescribed after a heart attack to:

  • Prevent future blood clots.
  • Lessen the work of your heart and improve your heart's performance and recovery.
  • Lower cholesterol.

Other medications may be prescribed if needed. These include medications to treat irregular heartbeats, lower blood pressure, control angina and treat heart failure .

It is important to know the names of your medications , what they are used for and how often and at what times you need to take them. Your doctor or nurse should review your medications with you. Keep a list of your medications and bring them to each of your doctor visits. If you have questions about your medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

What Lifestyle Changes Will I Need to Make?

There is no cure for coronary artery disease . In order to prevent the progression of this disease, you must follow your doctor's advice and make necessary lifestyle changes. You can stop smoking , lower your blood cholesterol , control your diabetes and high blood pressure , follow an exercise plan , lose weight, and control stress .

When Will I See My Doctor Again After I Leave the Hospital?

Make a doctor's appointment for four to six weeks after you leave the hospital. Your doctor will want to check the progress of your recovery. Your doctor may ask you to undergo diagnostic tests (such as an exercise stress test at regular intervals. These tests can help your doctor diagnose the presence or progression of blockages in your coronary arteries and plan treatment.

Call your doctor sooner if you have symptoms such as chest pain that becomes more frequent, increases in intensity, lasts longer, or spreads to other areas; shortness of breath, especially at rest; dizziness, or irregular heartbeats.

WebMD Medical Reference

Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD, June 2004, WebMD.



Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 10:51:02 AM