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How are heart attacks treated?

Treating a heart attack means restoring blood flow to the affected heart muscle as soon as possible. This can happen in a variety of ways, ranging from medication to surgery. It’s extremely likely that treatment will use several of the following methods.

Supplementary oxygen

People having trouble breathing or with low blood oxygen levels often receive supplementary oxygen along with other heart attack treatments. You can breathe the oxygen either through a tube that sits just below your nose or a mask that fits over your nose and mouth. This increases the amount of oxygen circulating in the blood and reduces the strain on your heart.

Medications

  • Anti-clotting medications: This includes aspirin and other blood-thinning medicines.
  • Nitroglycerin: This medicine relieves chest pain and causes blood vessels to widen so blood can pass through more easily.
  • Thrombolytic (clot-busting) medications: Providers use these only within the first 12 hours after a heart attack.
  • Anti-arrhythmia medications: Heart attacks can often cause malfunctions in your heart’s normal beating rhythm called arrhythmias, which can be life-threatening. Anti-arrhythmia medications can stop or prevent these malfunctions.
  • Pain medications: The most common pain medication given during heart attack care is morphine. This can help alleviate chest pain.

Percutaneous coronary intervention

Providers restore circulation to your affected heart muscle with a procedure called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). This uses a catheter-based device inserted into a major blood vessel (usually one near your upper thigh or your wrist).

PCI is a critical tool in restoring blood flow, and the sooner that happens, the better the chance of a good outcome. Hospitals use a metric called “door-to-balloon time” to measure their ability to treat a heart attack. This is the average time it takes for people to undergo PCI after they first come into the Emergency Room. PCI often includes the placement of a stent at the site of the blockage to help hold the artery open so another blockage doesn’t happen in the same spot.

Coronary artery bypass grafting

People who have severe blockages of their coronary arteries may undergo coronary artery bypass grafting. This surgery is often called open-heart surgery, bypass surgery, or CABG.

CABG involves using a blood vessel from elsewhere in your body (usually your chest, arm, or leg) to construct a detour for blood. This reroutes blood around one or more blocked artery sections and brings blood to your heart muscle.