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With the right treatment path, people who have suffered a heart attack can still live healthy and fulfilling lives, as long as they always follow the treatment path.

There is a complexity in treating people who have suffered from a heart attack, mostly because there is a wide range of treatment options that require careful assessment of the patient’s current risk factors, health status, as well as demographics.

Generally speaking, there are three main treatments for heart attacks — medication treatment, surgical treatment, and cardiac rehabilitation. Of course, lifestyle changes (with proper dieting and exercise) will always be part of a heart treatment plan.

1. Medication

People who have suffered a heart attack will need to take medication as part of their recovery process. Depending on your particular case, you may be required to take medication for life, but other pills are just temporary.

In general, heart attack sufferers will have to take a combination of several types of medication, which can include:

  • Anticoagulants. These are used to treat certain heart and lung conditions.
  • Aspirin. It helps reduce blood clotting.
  • Antiplatelet agents. These help prevent future blood clot formations, but also prevent the growth of existing blood clots.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. They help with narrowed blood vessels, and expand them to facilitate blood flow.
  • Beta blockers. They can help reduce the heart rate which prevents hypertension.
  • Calcium channel blockers prevent calcium from traveling through the bloodstream, which is a component of plaques that cause artery blockage.
  • Cholesterol-lowering medications. Since high cholesterol levels are the main cause of coronary artery disease and heart attacks, doctors prescribe medication to lower cholesterol in the blood.
  • Diuretics. These drugs force the body to get rid of excess fluids, taking a load off the heart.
  • Vasodilators. This class of drugs will dilate the blood vessels, making it easy for the heart to pump blood when the arteries are open wide.

2. Surgical interventions

When a patient comes into the emergency room with a severely narrow or blocked coronary artery, doctors might have to perform a surgical intervention in order to save a person’s life. In general, the most common interventions are angioplasty and coronary artery bypass surgery.

A coronary angioplasty is a procedure that requires opening the narrow coronary arteries that are restricting blood flow to the heart. A thin long tube called a catheter is typically inserted into the groin and guided all the way to the problematic location in the coronary artery.

Typically preceded by cardiac catheterization, this is generally an emergency procedure that doctors perform immediately after someone has suffered a heart attack. At the end of the tube that goes inside the artery, there is a small deflated balloon. Once it reaches the narrow spot in the artery, the balloon is inflated, pushing the walls of the coronary artery apart from one another. The balloon is then deflated and removed from the body, together with the catheter.

However, there are situations where inflating the balloon isn’t enough and a more permanent solution to keep the arteries open is required. Doctors will then place a stent, a small metal mesh tube. This stent will be placed inside the coronary arteries and left there, keeping the artery open for longer. Some stents are coated with medication which is slowly released into the bloodstream.

The other emergency procedure is coronary artery bypass, which is basically open-heart surgery. The purpose of this intervention is to redirect blood away from the blockage site of a coronary artery. During this procedure, the doctor takes a healthy vessel from another body part (usually from one of your legs) and uses it to create a new path for blood to follow. One end of the healthy vessel is attached before the blockage, and the other one goes past it. The path of the blood then ignores the blockage and uses the new vessels to travel to its destination.

These two may be the main interventions performed on someone who has suffered a heart attack, but there are variations to them, such as:

  • Laser angioplasty. This intervention uses a catheter with a laser tip that helps open the coronary artery.
  • Atherectomy. This is a form of angioplasty that involves using a catheter with a rotating shaver to completely cut the plaque formation from the inner lining of the artery wall.
  • Artificial heart valve surgery. This procedure is used to replace a diseased heart valve with a healthy one.
  • Radiofrequency ablation. In this procedure, that catheter inserted in the coronary artery has an electrode attached to its tips, which is meant to destroy specific muscle cells.
  • Heart transplant. People who are lucky enough might be viable candidates for a heart transplant, which implies completely replacing the damaged heart with a new one, received from a donor.

3. Cardiac rehabilitation

There are plenty of hospitals that offer cardiac rehabilitation programs that can “train” patients on how to care for themselves and recover after having suffered from a heart attack. During these programs, heart attack sufferers will learn how to take their medication, how to deal with the emotional implications of a heart attack, how to make the lifestyle changes that will prevent this from occurring in the future, and how to resume their activities in spite of having lived such an episode.

Cardiac rehabilitation is a supervised medical program that teaches heart attack patients what are the right exercises to perform for a healthy heart and offers to counsel to reduce the stress that takes a toll on heart health.

Conclusion

With the right treatment path, people who have suffered a heart attack can still live healthy and fulfilling lives, as long as they always follow the treatment path. Surviving a heart attack means that you will be required to take medication and make a commitment to eat the right types of food, exercise as often as you can, and take care of your mental health in the process.

In more drastic cases, treatment for a heart attack could involve a surgical procedure to open the coronary arteries, or even grafting to create a new route for blood to reach the heart.

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