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Heart Attack Causes and Treatments

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Conventional Response to a Heart Attack continued...

In some cases, clot-dissolving drugs like tPA or tenectaplase (TNKase) are also given. These drugs are most effective if given within a few hours of the beginning of a heart attack. Emergency angioplasty, and possibly surgery, might be performed to remove a clot, reopen a clogged artery, or bypass blocked arteries.

Once past the critical phase of a heart attack, patients continue to receive: 

  • Beta blockers to slow the heart
  • Nitrates to increase heart blood flow
  • Blood thinners to prevent further blood clotting

In the hospital, electrocardiogram machines are used to monitor the heart and watch for rhythm abnormalities. If the heart starts beating too fast or too slow, various medications may be given. Some patients may be fitted with pacemakers. If a patient experiences a dangerous arrhythmia known as ventricular fibrillation, electric shock may be used to restore the normal rhythm. Patients who show signs of congestive heart failure receive a variety of medications to decrease strain on the heart and encourage the heart to beat more forcefully.

People recovering from a heart attack are urged to get back on their feet as quickly as possible. Doing so reduces the chances of blood clots forming in the deep veins of the legs. These clots could travel through the circulatory system and lodge in the lung, creating a blockage. Gentle exercise is recommended, but nothing that requires significant exertion. 

Long-term recovery from heart attack requires psychological and lifestyle adjustments. Habits that need to go include 

  • Smoking
  • Heavy drinking
  • Eating high-fat foods.

As a preventive measure, most heart attack survivors take a daily aspirin tablet to thin the blood. Other drugs may also be prescribed, depending on the patient.

Some patients need invasive procedures to improve blood flow to the heart over the long term. The two most common procedures are:

  • Angioplasty -- a catheter technique that widens clogged arteries by breaking up plaques 
  • Coronary bypass surgery, which diverts blood flow around clogged arteries

Lifestyle After a Heart Attack

Regular aerobic exercise greatly improve the chances of preventing or recovering from a heart attack. If you already have a heart condition, schedule a stress test before beginning an exercise program. The test can help to determine how much exertion is safe. 

Heart attack survivors are advised to exercise with other people rather than alone during the first months of recovery. Many community health and recreation centers offer physician-supervised cardiovascular rehabilitation programs.

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