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Heart Attack: What to Expect in the Emergency Room

What to Expect When You Arrive at the Emergency Room

Emergency rooms operate on a triage basis. This means that they treat the most serious illnesses first. If you arrive with symptoms of a heart attack, they will see you quickly. Doctors will work to confirm your diagnosis, relieve your symptoms, and treat the problem. Depending upon your symptoms, you may have one or more of the following:

  • Medical history
  • Physical exam
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) to diagnose a heart attack

  • Electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring to screen for abnormal heart rhythms, called arrhythmias
  • Blood tests to confirm a heart attack
  • Medications, such as nitroglycerin, aspirin, and clot-busting drugs
  • Oxygen
  • Cardiac catheterization, which involves threading a flexible tube into the heart from a blood vessel in the wrist or groin to open a blocked artery

Be prepared to answer a lot of questions at the emergency room, including questions about:

  • The pain you experienced
  • Past and current health problems, including past history of heart disease
  • Risk factors
  • Lifestyle habits, including the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and recreational drugs
  • Current medications, both prescription and over-the-counter
  • Dietary and herbal supplements
  • Any allergies you have, especially allergies to medications


Transfer from Emergency Room to Hospital Room With a Heart Attack

Not everyone who goes to the emergency room with chest pain is admitted to the hospital. But if there is a reasonable chance that the pain is due to a heart attack or other serious condition, you will be admitted to the hospital.

The first 24 hours following a heart attack are usually spent in a coronary care unit (CCU) or an intensive care unit (ICU). There, skilled staff will continuously monitor your heart rhythm. A series of electrocardiograms and blood tests will be performed. Doctors will continue to watch you closely and give you medication as needed. Your doctor may suggest further tests.

If you remain stable after 24 hours in the CCU or ICU, you may be transferred to the "telemetry" floor of the hospital, where you will continue to receive care by a cardiac care team. Depending upon the severity of the heart attack and how quickly you received treatment, you may be able to go home within two to four days.

When You Get Home From the Hospital

  • Follow instructions given to you in your discharge summary.
  • Take all prescribed medicines.
  • Make an appointment to see your cardiologist.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about when to resume normal activities.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on July 10, 2014

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