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Heart Attack and Unstable Angina - Overview

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.

After these treatments, you will take medicines to help prevent another heart attack. Take all of your medicines correctly. Do not stop taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to. If you stop taking your medicine, you might raise your risk of having another heart attack.

After you have had a heart attack, the chance that you will have another one is higher. Taking part in a cardiac rehab program helps lower this risk. A cardiac rehab program is designed for you and supervised by doctors and other specialists. It can help you learn how to eat a balanced diet and exercise safely.

It is common to feel worried and afraid after a heart attack. But if you are feeling very sad or hopeless, ask your doctor about treatment. Getting treatment for depression may help you recover from a heart attack.

Can you prevent a heart attack?

Heart attacks are usually the result of heart disease, so taking steps to delay or reverse coronary artery disease can help prevent a heart attack. Heart disease is a leading cause of death for both men and women, so these steps are important for everyone.

To improve your heart health:

  • Don't smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke. Quitting smoking can quickly reduce the risk of another heart attack or death.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber grains and breads, and olive oil.
  • Get regular exercise. Your doctor can suggest a safe level of exercise for you.
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Manage your diabetes.
  • Lower your stress level. Stress can damage your heart.
  • Take a daily aspirin if your doctor advises it.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 08, 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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