Nonsurgical Treatment Options for Heart Attack

Not everyone who has had a heart attack needs open-heart surgery, such as a bypass operation. A procedure known as angioplasty can help unblock arteries. And people can do well with medication, gradual exercise, and healthy lifestyle changes. These different types of treatment can help you manage heart problems and prevent another heart attack:

Angioplasty

A heart attack can happen as a result of a narrowed or blocked artery. This prevents enough blood from reaching the heart. Sometimes, the artery can be opened up with a procedure called angioplasty.

Angioplasty involves inserting a small hollow tube into or near the blocked artery. A balloon on the end of the tube is inflated. This pushes open the artery walls so that blood flows better. Often, a small mesh tube called a stent is placed inside the artery. This props it open and helps keep it from closing up again. Very rarely, during the procedure, a laser or other device is sometimes used to dissolve or cut away artery-clogging plaque.

Medications

Your health care provider may prescribe different types of medication for you to use after a heart attack. Here's how commonly prescribed drugs can help:

  • Aspirin and other antiplatelet drugs prevent clots that form when blood cells called platelets clump together.
  • Beta-blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors lower blood pressure. This means the heart doesn't have to work as hard. Beta-blockers also control irregular heartbeats and relieve chest pain.
  • Statins lower blood cholesterol, helping prevent clogged arteries.

Some people decide on their own to stop taking one or more of their medications a few weeks or months after they get out of the hospital. This is a dangerous mistake and can increase the risk of further damage to the heart or even death. Continuing to take medications, however, can help you feel better and live longer. Talk with your health care provider if you are confused about your medications, are concerned about cost, or have unpleasant side effects from any drug.

Exercise and lifestyle changes

By making some simple lifestyle changes, you can help improve your heart health and prevent another heart attack:

  • Quit smoking. For those who smoke, this is the most important step. It's never easy, but several things can help: nicotine patches and gum, certain medications, and group or self-help smoking-cessation programs.
  • Get regular exercise. Walking, for example, can be a great way to help your heart regain its strength. Talk with your health care provider to learn safe ways to exercise. Participating in physical activity on a regular basis can also help you control emotions such as stress or depression, which are common feelings in people who have experienced a heart attack.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Include several daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The American Heart Association recommends that people with heart disease eat fish at least twice a week or take fish oil capsules with their health care provider's approval. This type of eating plan can help you control your weight, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure. Your health care provider can help you plan a diet that includes your favorite foods.
  • Weight management. If you are overweight or obese, you health care provider will work with you to help you lose weight and lower your BMI (body mass index) to a normal or near-normal level. Making diet changes and increasing physical activity can help.
  • Stress. Learn stress-management techniques to help you deal with stress in your home and work life.

With the right treatment and healthy changes in lifestyle, you can reduce your chance for a second heart attack. You'll worry less and feel better. Those are benefits worth working for.

Patient Stories

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