Heart Attack

Medically reviewed by Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Heart attack treatment

Your healthcare provider should be screening you during regular physicals for the risk factors that can lead to heart attack. Being aware of your risk factors and their severity is one of the best ways to manage your health and prevent heart attack.

Heart attack prevention

The optimal way of treating a heart attack is preventing one from ever occurring in the first place. There are a variety of ways in which you can reduce your risk17 for heart attack, including:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Working with your healthcare provider to manage your risk factors (such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes)
  • Maintaining an active lifestyle and a healthy diet
  • Taking all medications as prescribed

Talk to your healthcare provider about what steps you can take to manage your health and help prevent heart attack.

Medication and prescriptions for heart attack

If you do have a heart attack, you will be treated immediately at a hospital. More heart tissue deteriorates or dies each minute after a heart attack.

You may be prescribed medications to treat your heart attack18, including:

  • Aspirin: A 911 operator may tell you to take aspirin, or emergency medical personnel may give it to you immediately. This drug reduces blood clotting, helping to maintain blood flow through a narrowed artery.
  • Thrombolytics: Thrombolytics (also called clot-busters) help to dissolve blood clots. The earlier you receive this kind of drug after a heart attack, the greater your chance of surviving and incurring less heart damage.
  • Antiplatelet agents: Platelet aggregation inhibitors help keep existing blood clots from getting bigger and prevent new ones from forming.
  • Other blood thinners: Other medications, such as heparin, thin your blood and make it less likely to form clots. This drug is administered intravenously or by an injection under the skin.
  • Pain relievers: You may be given a pain reliever, such as morphine, to help manage your discomfort.
  • Beta blockers: Beta blockers help relax your heart muscle, slow your heartbeat, and decrease blood pressure, reducing the strain on your heart. These drugs help limit the amount of damage done to your heart and can help prevent future heart attacks.
  • Nitroglycerin: This medication, which is used to treat angina (chest pain), can help improve blood flow to the heart by dilating (widening) blood vessels.
  • ACE inhibitors: ACE inhibitors lower your blood pressure and reduce the strain on your heart.
  • Statins: These drugs help control blood cholesterol levels.

Heart attack medication

Your provider may prescribe the following medications for heart attack:

May be prescribed

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Surgery and medical procedures for heart attack

In addition to being given medication, you may need to undergo surgery to treat your heart attack. These procedures may include:

  • Coronary angioplasty and stent placement: This procedure is often done immediately after cardiac catheterization. During this procedure, a long, thin tube (called a catheter) is inserted into the blocked artery. A wire with a deflated balloon is passed through the catheter. The balloon is then inflated, widening the blocked artery. A metal mesh stent might then be inserted to keep the artery open long-term and restore the flow of blood to the heart.
  • Coronary bypass surgery: In some cases, emergency bypass surgery may be required at the time of a heart attack. When possible, however, this procedure is delayed until your heart has had time to recover from an attack (generally 3–7 days). This surgery involves sewing veins or arteries in place beyond blocked or narrowed coronary arteries, allowing blood to bypass the blocked or narrowed section and flow to the heart.

What happens after a heart attack?

Roughly 85% of people19 who have heart attacks survive. Understanding what happens after a heart attack can help keep you healthy through recovery and in the future.

After you are discharged from the hospital, treatment almost always will involve medications and lifestyle changes to manage atherosclerosis and reduce the risk of developing blood clots in the future.

Eliminating tobacco is a must, and choosing a heart-healthy diet20 is equally important. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and red meat and getting more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.

Many hospitals offer cardiac rehabilitation21 programs. These can be inpatient or outpatient. They may begin while you’re still in the hospital and continue for a few weeks to months after returning home. Cardiac rehabilitation programs generally focus on four key areas: medications, lifestyle changes, emotional issues, and gradually returning to your normal activities.

Participation is extremely important: people who attend cardiac rehabilitation following a heart attack generally live longer and are less likely to have another heart attack or complications from another heart attack.

Because heart attacks are so serious—and, oftentimes, scary—many survivors experience psychological effects. Depression is common, while fear and anxiety surrounding the possibility of another heart attack may occur. On the other hand, many people feel a renewed sense of purpose after having survived such a frightening ordeal.

No matter what your emotional response is like following a heart attack, you should seek help and support when you need it. The American Heart Association’s Support Network for patients and families22 is just one example of such resources.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.