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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Attack and Unstable Angina - Overview

What should you do if you think you are having a heart attack? continued...

If you do not have nitroglycerin:

  1. Call 911 or other emergency services now. Describe your symptoms, and say that you could be having a heart attack.
  2. Stay on the phone. The emergency operator will tell you what to do. The operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Aspirin helps keep blood from clotting, so it may help you survive a heart attack.
  3. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

The best choice is to go to the hospital in an ambulance. The paramedics can begin lifesaving treatments even before you arrive at the hospital. If you cannot reach emergency services, have someone drive you to the hospital right away. Do not drive yourself unless you have absolutely no other choice.

If you think you are having unstable angina but you are not sure, follow the steps listed above. Unstable angina can lead to a heart attack or death, so you need to have it checked right away.

How is a heart attack treated?

If you go to the hospital in an ambulance, treatment will be started right away to restore blood flow and limit damage to the heart. You may be given:

  • Aspirin and other medicines to prevent blood clots.
  • Medicines that break up blood clots (thrombolytics).
  • Medicines to decrease the heart's workload and ease pain.

At the hospital, you will have tests, such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). It can detect signs of poor blood flow, heart muscle damage, abnormal heartbeats, and other heart problems.
  • Blood tests, including tests to see whether cardiac enzymes are high. Having these enzymes in the blood is usually a sign that the heart has been damaged.
  • Cardiac catheterization, if the other tests show that you may be having a heart attack. This test shows which arteries are blocked and how your heart is working.

If cardiac catheterization shows that an artery is blocked, a doctor may do angioplasty right away to help blood flow through the artery. Or a doctor may do emergency bypass surgery to redirect blood around the blocked artery.

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