Heart Attack: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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How is a heart attack treated?

Treating a heart attack means restoring blood flow to the affected heart muscle as soon as possible. This can happen in a variety of ways, ranging from medication to surgery. Treatment will likely include several of the following methods.

Supplementary oxygen

People having trouble breathing or with low blood oxygen levels often receive supplementary oxygen along with other heart attack treatments. You can breathe the oxygen either through a tube that sits just below your nose or a mask that fits over your nose and mouth. This increases the amount of oxygen circulating in your blood and reduces the strain on your heart.

Medications

These may include:

  • Anti-clotting medications: This includes aspirin and other blood-thinning medicines.
  • Nitroglycerin: This medicine relieves chest pain and causes blood vessels to widen so blood can pass through more easily.
  • Thrombolytic (clot-busting) medications: Providers use these only within the first 12 hours after a heart attack.
  • Anti-arrhythmia medications: Heart attacks can often cause malfunctions in your heart’s normal beating rhythm called arrhythmias, which can be life-threatening. Anti-arrhythmia medications can stop or prevent these malfunctions.
  • Pain medications: The most common pain medication people receive during heart attack care is morphine. This can help alleviate chest pain.
  • Beta-blockers: These medications help slow down your heart rate so your heart can recover from the injury of a heart attack.
  • Antihypertensives: These medications decrease your blood pressure and can help your heart recover from the injury of a heart attack.
  • Statins: These medications help stabilize the plaque in your heart’s blood vessels so that they’re less likely to rupture. They also help reduce cholesterol and the chances of having another heart attack.

Percutaneous coronary intervention

Providers restore circulation to your affected heart muscle with a procedure called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) or angioplasty.

Opening your artery with a catheter is critical in restoring blood flow. The sooner that happens, the better the chance of a good outcome. Providers use a metric called “door-to-balloon time” to measure their ability to treat a heart attack. This is the average time it takes for people to undergo PCI after they first come into the emergency room. If you receive PCI, your provider may place a stent at the site of the blockage. The stent helps hold your artery open so another blockage doesn’t happen in the same spot.

Coronary artery bypass grafting

People who have severe blockages of their coronary arteries may undergo coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). Providers often call this open-heart surgery or bypass surgery.

CABG involves using a blood vessel from elsewhere in your body (usually your chest, arm or leg) to construct a detour for blood. This reroutes blood around one or more blocked artery sections and brings blood to your heart muscle.

Complications/side effects of the treatment

Treatment side effects vary by treatment and may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Weakness.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Bleeding.
  • Infection.
  • Damage to a blood vessel.
  • Arrhythmia.
  • Kidney issues.
  • Stroke.

How soon after treatment will I feel better?

In general, your heart attack symptoms should decrease as you receive treatment. You’ll likely have some lingering weakness and fatigue during your hospital stay and for several days after. Your healthcare provider will give you guidance on rest, medications to take and more.

Recovery from the treatments also varies, depending on the method of treatment. The average hospital stay for a heart attack is between four and five days. In general, expect to stay in the hospital for the following length of time:

  • Medication only: People who only receive medication have an average hospital stay of about six days.
  • PCI: Recovering from PCI is easier than surgery because it’s a less invasive method for treating a heart attack. The average length of stay for PCI is about four days.
  • CABG: Recovery from heart bypass surgery takes longer because it’s a major surgery. The average length of stay for CABG is about eight to 12 days.

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