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Heart Attack and Unstable Angina - Treatment Overview

Do not wait if you think you are having a heart attack. Getting help fast can save your life.

Emergency treatment gets blood flowing back to the heart. This treatment is similar for unstable angina and heart attack.

  • For unstable angina, treatment prevents a heart attack.
  • For a heart attack, treatment limits the damage to your heart.

Ambulance and emergency room

Treatment begins in the ambulance and emergency room. The goal of your health care team will be to prevent permanent heart muscle damage by restoring blood flow to your heart as quickly as possible. Treatment includes:

  • Oxygen and pain relief. Oxygen therapy and morphine are typically given.
  • Nitroglycerin. It opens up the arteries of the heart to help blood flow back to the heart.
  • Beta-blockers. These drugs lower the heart rate, blood pressure, and the workload of the heart.

You also will receive medicines to stop blood clots. These are given to prevent blood clots from getting bigger so blood can flow to the heart. Some medicines will break up blood clots to increase blood flow. You might be given:

Angioplasty or surgery

Angioplasty. Doctors try to do angioplasty as soon as possible after a heart attack. Angioplasty might be done for unstable angina, especially if there is a high risk of a heart attack.

Angioplasty gets blood flowing to the heart. It opens a coronary artery that was narrowed or blocked during the heart attack.

But angioplasty is not available in all hospitals. Sometimes an ambulance will take a person to a hospital that provides angioplasty, even if that hospital is farther away. If a person is at a hospital that does not do angioplasty, he or she might be moved to another hospital where angioplasty is available.

If you are treated at a hospital that has proper equipment and staff, you may be taken to the cardiac catheterization lab camera.gif. You will have cardiac catheterization, also called a coronary angiogram. Your doctor will check your coronary arteries to see if angioplasty is right for you.

Bypass surgery. If angioplasty is not right for you, emergency coronary artery bypass surgery may be done. For example, bypass surgery might be a better option because of the location of the blockage or because of numerous blockages.

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