Heart Attack


Heart attacks are a leading killer of both men and women in the United States. The good news is that excellent treatments are available for heart attacks. These treatments can save lives and prevent disabilities.

Heart attack treatment works best when it's given right after symptoms occur.

Act Fast

The signs and symptoms of a heart attack can develop suddenly. However, they also can develop slowly—sometimes within hours, days, or weeks of a heart attack.

Know the warning signs of a heart attack so you can act fast to get treatment for yourself or someone else. The sooner you get emergency help, the less damage your heart will sustain.

Call 9–1–1 for an ambulance right away if you think you or someone else may be having a heart attack. You also should call for help if your chest pain doesn't go away as it usually does when you take medicine prescribed for angina.

Treatment May Start Right Away

Treatment for a heart attack may begin in the ambulance or in the emergency department and continue in a special area of the hospital called a coronary care unit.

Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.

Restoring Blood Flow to the Heart

The coronary care unit is specially equipped with monitors that continuously monitor your vital signs. These include

In the hospital, if you have had or are having a heart attack, doctors will work quickly to restore blood flow to your heart and continuously monitor your vital signs to detect and treat complications.

Restoring blood flow to the heart can prevent or limit damage to the heart muscle and help prevent another heart attack. Doctors may use clot-busting drugs called thrombolytics and procedures such as angioplasty.

Drug Treatments

Many medications are used to treat heart attacks. They include beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, nitrates, anticoagulants, antiplatelet medications, and medications to relieve pain and anxiety.

Doctors may also prescribe medications to relieve pain and anxiety, or to treat irregular heart rhythms which often occur during a heart attack.

Echocardiogram and Stress Tests

While you are still in the hospital or after you go home, your doctor may order other tests, such as an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram uses ultrasound to make an image of the heart which can be seen on a video monitor. It shows how well the heart is filling with blood and pumping it to the rest of the body.

Your doctor may also order a stress test to see how well your heart works when it has a heavy workload. You run on a treadmill or pedal a bicycle or receive medicine through a vein in your arm to make your heart work harder. EKG and blood pressure readings are taken before, during, and after the test to see how your heart responds.

Often, an echocardiogram or nuclear scan of the heart is performed before and after exercise or intravenous medication. The test is stopped if chest pain or a very sharp rise or fall in blood pressure occurs. Monitoring continues for 10 to 15 minutes after the test or until your heart rate returns to baseline.