Treatment of a heart attack

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Over the last few decades, there has been a lot of scientific research conducted that has now set down guidelines on how a heart attack is treated. While all of it might sound rather complicated, in this section we talk about the different treatments a patient who has suffered a heart attack that may be offered.

Medical therapy

Medical therapy  starts immediately after a diagnosis of a heart attack has been made. The aim of the medical treatment is to re-establish blood flow  to parts of the heart muscle that are not receiving sufficient amount of it.

As we have already seen earlier, heart attacks occur due to the formation of a blood clot  (a clump of platelets) within the artery that stops the blood from flowing to the heart muscle. This is accompanied by atherosclerosis of the blood vessels.

The aim of treatment of a heart attack is to get rid of this blood clot as soon as possible. In addition, an attempt to open up a narrowed artery using special procedures may be conducted.

 How quickly should treatment be commenced?

It is recommended that the medicines be commenced as soon as possible. Treatment given within 30 minutes of the start of symptoms tend to have a better effect when compared with those given later. The sooner the treatment of a heart attack is started, the better  is the recovery of the heart muscle from the attack. If for some reason there is a delay, the damage could be rather extensive  and sometimes even life-threatening.

What are the medication is prescribed to patients with a heart attack?

There are different kinds of medications that are currently available most of which are essential. The commonly prescribed drugs include –

drugs and vitamins1. Blood thinners such as aspirin and clopidogrel

2. Clot – busting treatment (called thrombolysis)

3. Special blood thinners such as heparin

4. Pain relieving medication such as morphine

5. Oxygen therapy

6. Medications to reduce pain and increase blood supply to the heart such as nitrates

Of course, these medications are rarely prescribed individually and are usually given in combination. You can read more about drug therapy in heart disease here.

Interventional therapy

Other than medical treatment, new treatments called ‘interventional therapy’ have emerged.

Interventional therapy is a special treatment of a heart attack where thin wires and tiny balloons are inserted into the artery that is blocked in an attempt to open it up. Once the artery is opened up, a small metallic stent is inserted into the artery in order to keep it open and to allow for normal flow. This procedure is sometimes called as primary percutaneous coronary intervention (or primary PCI). The procedure is commonly called angioplasty as well.  You can read more about angioplasty here.

The current guidelines recommend that any interventional procedure following a heart attack  be conducted within 90 minutes from the arrival of the patient to the casualty department. This time is sometimes called  the ‘door to balloon’ time and is strictly followed in most hospitals.

Long-term therapy

Once the appropriate therapy has been administered to the patient,  they will require long-term treatment which is usually with medication.  Certain specific preventative measures will need to be followed  and lifestyle choices need to be made. This is important in order to prevent another heart attack in the future.


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