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The goal of treatment for a heart attack is to relieve pain, preserve the heart muscle function, and prevent death. Early treatment for a heart attack can prevent or limit damage to the heart muscle.

Immediate Treatment

Certain treatments usually are started right away if a heart attack is suspected, even before the diagnosis is confirmed. These include:

  • Aspirin to prevent further blood clotting
  • Nitroglycerin to reduce your heart's workload and improve blood flow through the coronary arteries
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Treatment for chest pain

Once the diagnosis of a heart attack is confirmed or strongly suspected, doctors start treatments promptly to try to restore blood flow through the blood vessels supplying the heart.

Other Treatments for Heart Attack

Other treatments for heart attack include:

  • Medicines
  • Medical procedures
  • Heart-healthy lifestyle changes
  • Cardiac rehabilitation

Medicines

Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medicines:

  • ACE inhibitors. ACE inhibitors lower blood pressure and reduce strain on your heart. They also help slow down further weakening of the heart muscle.
  • Anticlotting medicines. Anticlotting medicines stop platelets from clumping together and forming unwanted blood clots. Examples of anticlotting medicines include aspirin and clopidogrel.
  • Anticoagulants. Anticoagulants, or blood thinners, prevent blood clots from forming in your arteries. These medicines also keep existing clots from getting larger.
  • Beta blockers. Beta blockers decrease your heart's workload. These medicines also are used to relieve chest pain and discomfort and to help prevent another heart attack. Beta blockers also are used to treat arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).
  • Fibrinolytic therapy. Fibrinolytic therapy is the intravenous infusion of a medication, which dissolves the blood clot; thus, restoring blood flow.
  • Statin medicines. Statins control or lower your blood cholesterol. By lowering your blood cholesterol level, you can decrease your chance of having another heart attack or stroke. Bile acid sequestants, such as colesevelam, cholestyramine, and colestipol, and nicotinic acid (niacin) are two other types of medications that may be used to reduce cholesterol levels.

You also may be given medicines to relieve pain and anxiety, and treat arrhythmias. Take all medicines regularly, as your doctor prescribes. Don't change the amount of your medicine or skip a dose unless your doctor tells you to.

Medical Procedures

Coronary angioplasty. With this procedure, a balloon is used to create a bigger opening in the vessel to increase blood flow. This is often followed by the insertion of a stent into the coronary artery to help keep the vessel open. Although angioplasty is performed in other blood vessels elsewhere in the body, percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) refers to angioplasty in the coronary arteries to permit more blood flow into the heart. PCI is also called percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA). There are several types of PTCA procedures, including:

  • Balloon angioplasty. A small balloon is inflated inside the blocked artery to open the blocked area.
  • Coronary artery stent. A tiny coil is expanded inside the blocked artery to open the blocked area and is left in place to keep the artery open.
  • Atherectomy. The blocked area inside the artery is cut away by a tiny device on the end of a catheter.
  • Laser angioplasty. A laser used to "vaporize the blockage in the artery".

Cardiac Rehabilitation

Your doctor may recommend cardiac rehabilitation (cardiac rehab) to help you recover from a heart attack and to help prevent another heart attack. Nearly everyone who has had a heart attack can benefit from rehab. Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program that may help improve the health and well-being of people who have he​art problems.

The cardiac rehab team may include doctors, nurses, exercise specialists, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians or nutritionists, and psychologists or other mental health specialists.

Rehab has two parts:

  • Education, counseling, and training. This part of rehab helps you understand your heart condition and find ways to reduce your risk for future heart problems. The rehab team will help you learn how to cope with the stress of adjusting to a new lifestyle and how to deal with your fears about the future.
  • Exercise training. This part helps you learn how to exercise safely, strengthen your muscles, and improve your stamina. Your exercise plan will be based on your personal abilities, needs, and interests.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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