Explore Heart Attack
Early treatment for a heart attack can prevent or limit damage to the heart muscle. Acting fast, at the first symptoms of a heart attack, can save your life. Medical personnel can begin diagnosis and treatment even before you get to the hospital.
Certain treatments usually are started right away if a heart attack is suspected, even before the diagnosis is confirmed. These include:
Once the diagnosis of a heart attack is confirmed or strongly suspected, doctors start treatments to try to promptly restore blood flow to the heart. The two main treatments are "clot-busting" medicines and percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), sometimes referred to as coronary angioplasty, a procedure used to open blocked coronary arteries.
Thrombolytic medicines, also called "clot busters," are used to dissolve blood clots that are blocking the coronary arteries. To work best, these medicines must be given within several hours of the start of heart attack symptoms. Ideally, the medicine should be given as soon as possible.
Percutaneous (per-ku-TA-ne-us) coronary intervention (PCI) is a nonsurgical procedure that opens blocked or narrowed coronary arteries. This procedure also is called coronary angioplasty.
A thin, flexible tube with a balloon or other device on the end is threaded through a blood vessel, usually in the groin (upper thigh), to the narrowed or blocked coronary artery.
Once in place, the balloon is inflated to compress the plaque against the wall of the artery. This restores blood flow through the artery.
During the procedure, the doctor may put a small mesh tube called a stent in the artery. The stent helps prevent blockages in the artery in the months or years after the procedure.
For more information, go to the Health Topics PCI article.
You also may be given medicines to relieve pain and anxiety, treat arrhythmias (which often occur during a heart attack), or lower your cholesterol (these medicines are called statins).
Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) also may be used to treat a heart attack. During CABG, a surgeon removes a healthy artery or vein from your body. The artery or vein is then connected, or grafted, to the blocked coronary artery.
The grafted artery or vein bypasses (that is, goes around) the blocked portion of the coronary artery. This provides a new route for blood to flow to the heart muscle.
For more information, go to the Health Topics Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting article.
Most people spend several days in the hospital after a heart attack. When you leave the hospital, treatment doesn't stop. At home, your treatment may include daily medicines and cardiac rehabilitation (rehab). Your doctor may want you to have a flu shot and pneumococcal vaccine each year.
Your doctor also may recommend lifestyle changes, including following a heart healthy diet, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking. Taking these steps can lower your chances of having another heart attack.
Your doctor may recommend cardiac rehab to help you recover from a heart attack and to help prevent another heart attack. Almost everyone who has had a heart attack can benefit from rehab.
Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program that may help improve the health and well-being of people who have heart problems.
The cardiac rehab team may include doctors, nurses, exercise specialists, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians or nutritionists, and psychologists or other mental health specialists.
Rehab has two parts:
For more information, go to the Health Topics Cardiac Rehabilitation article.
What is a heart attack?
Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Heart Attack, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.
October 24, 2013
NIH and CDC launch registry for sudden death in the young
A registry of deaths in young people from conditions such as heart disease and epilepsy is being created to help researchers define the scope of the problem and set future research priorities. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are collaborating to create the Sudden Death in the Young Registry.
When a heart attack happens, any delays in treatment can be deadly.
Knowing the warning symptoms of a heart attack and how to take action can save your life or someone else’s.
The NHLBI has created a new series of informative, easy-to-read heart attack materials to help the public better understand the facts about heart attacks and how to act fast to save a life.
Click the links to download or order the NHLBI's new heart attack materials:
“Don’t Take a Chance With a Heart Attack: Know the Facts and Act Fast” (also available in Spanish)
September 2, 2014
Gary H. Gibbons
Researcher Brings Medicine One Step Closer to Widely Available Cure for Sickle Cell Disease
The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.