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Acute Coronary Syndrome - Topic Overview

How is acute coronary syndrome diagnosed?

A doctor will give you a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and past health. He or she also will ask about your family's health. You will have several tests to find out what is causing your chest pain.

An electrocardiogram can show whether you have angina or have had a heart attack. This test measures the electrical signals that control your heart's rhythm. Small pads will be taped to your chest and other areas of your body. They connect to a machine that traces the signals onto paper. The doctor will look for certain changes on the graph to see if your heart is not getting enough blood or if you are having a heart attack.

A blood test will look for a rise in cardiac enzymes. The heart releases these substances when it is damaged.

In some cases, you might have a test called a cardiac perfusion scan to see if your heart is getting enough blood. It also can be used to check for areas of damage after a heart attack.

How is it treated?

If you call 911, treatment will start in the ambulance with aspirin and other medicines.

In the hospital, the doctor will work right away to return blood flow to your heart. You may get medicines to break up and prevent blood clots. You may get nitroglycerin and other medicines that make your arteries wider. This helps to ease pain and improve blood flow. You also will get oxygen and pain medicine.

Your test results will help your doctor decide about more treatment. If you are having a heart attack, you likely will get medicines to break up clots or have angioplasty (usually with stents) or bypass surgery to improve blood flow to your heart. If you are having unstable angina, you will likely get medicines but you might also have angioplasty with stents.

After you get out of the hospital, you will continue to take medicines such as beta-blockers to help your heart. You will likely take aspirin and also may take other medicines that prevent blood clots. You probably also will take medicines to keep your cholesterol and blood pressure at normal levels.

Can acute coronary syndrome be prevented?

Heart disease can lead to acute coronary syndrome. If you do not have heart disease, you may be able to prevent it with a healthy lifestyle:

  • Eat a diet that has lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
  • Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Try to do moderate exercise at least 2½ hours a week. One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Medicines and counseling can help you quit for good.
  • Know your numbers. Keep track of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A healthy lifestyle can help keep these numbers in a normal range. Many people also take medicine to reach their goals.

People who already have heart disease usually take several medicines to lower the chance of a heart attack. These may include daily low-dose aspirin and medicines to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. People who have heart disease also are encouraged to eat a healthy diet, get daily exercise, and not smoke. These steps may prevent a heart attack or stroke.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 13, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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