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Understanding Heart Attack: Diagnosis and Treatment

What Are the Treatments for Heart Attack? continued...

In the Coronary Care Unit (CCU)
Heart attack patients are usually hospitalized in coronary care units (CCU) for at least 36 hours. Once past the critical phase, patients continue to receive a variety of drugs, including:

  • Beta-blockers to slow the heart
  • Nitrates to increase heart blood flow
  • Blood thinners such as heparin, aspirin, Brilinta, Effient, or clopidogrel to prevent further clotting
  • ACE inhibitors to help the heart muscle heal
  • Statins -- cholesterol-lowering drugs such as simvastatin and atorvastatin -- are now given routinely to help the heart muscle heal and lower the risk of another heart attack.

While hospitalized, a patient has his or her heart constantly monitored by ECG (electrocardiogram), in case abnormal heart rhythms develop. If the heart starts beating too fast or too slow, various medications may be given. Some patients may need to be fitted with a pacemaker, a battery-powered device to help maintain a steady heart rhythm. If a patient experiences a dangerous arrhythmia known as ventricular fibrillation, an electric shock to the chest is administered. Patients who show signs of heart failure are given a variety of medications to decrease strain on the heart and to 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, which reduces the chances of blood clots forming in the deep veins of the legs, called a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. 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.

Some patients require further invasive procedures to improve blood flow to the heart. The two most common procedures are angioplasty -- a catheter technique that widens clogged arteries by breaking up plaques -- and coronary bypass surgery, which diverts blood flow around clogged arteries.

What Is the Outlook After a Heart Attack?

Long-term recovery from heart attack requires psychological and lifestyle adjustments: Quitting smoking is very important. Most heart attack survivors take a daily aspirin tablet to thin the blood and help prevent future heart attacks. Other drugs may also be prescribed, depending on the person’s condition.

Exercise After Heart Attack

Regular, aerobic exercise greatly enhances efforts to recover from a heart attack -- and prevent a future heart attack. If you already have a heart condition, discuss a stress test with your doctor before beginning an exercise program 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 hospitals and community health and recreation centers offer doctor-supervised cardiac rehabilitation programs, which can teach you about safe exercise and how to reach your target heart rate.

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