The first step in heart attack prevention is identifying and reducing risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, and high-fat diets.
Talk to your doctor about personal risk factors and how to make lifestyle changes to reduce the chances of a heart attack, such as:
• quitting smoking
• staying physically active and incorporating regular exercise into a daily routine - exercise will help with weight reduction and will lower cholesterol
• watching your diet - you may need to consult a nutritionist for advice about healthy foods that can help to lower cholesterol
If someone experiences symptoms that might be a heart attack, they should call an ambulance right away. A variety of effective treatments, including thrombolytic ("clot-busting") medications, are available to heart attack victims, but these must be given quickly in order to be effective. 50% of deaths due to heart attack occur within 3 to 4 hours of the beginning of the symptoms. Depending on the hospital, you may be brought directly to the cardiac catheterization laboratory to do an angioplasty, a procedure where a tiny balloon will break open the clot directly. The most important thing you need to do is the reach the hospital as quickly as possible. This will increase the chance of survival.
The hospital's primary tasks during a heart attack are to stop the damage to heart cells by restoring blood flow, and to deal with complications like ventricular fibrillation. The first medication a person will be given upon entering the hospital is a chewable ASA* (acetylsalicylic acid) tablet. This will help inhibit platelets from forming a blood clot, preventing further blockage of the artery. A range of medications is usually given to reduce the heart's workload, to dissolve the clot, and to prevent further clotting. An oxygen mask may also be used to increase the level of oxygen in the blood.
A defibrillator is a pair of high-voltage paddles that can deliver an electric shock to the heart. Its purpose is to stop ventricular fibrillation.
After a heart attack, 1 or 2 days of bed rest is usually necessary, but staying bedridden too long can prevent the heart from regaining strength and tends to worsen natural feelings of nervousness or depression. Most people are able to walk a few steps on the third day, but should be careful about straining and lifting heavy objects for a few months.
Medication therapy with ASA or clopidogrel is commonly given to prevent the blood from clotting. Other medications called beta-blockers or ACE inhibitors may also be prescribed. These medications help reduce the heart's workload and allow easier blood flow from the heart. Cholesterol medications are also important, even if you have "normal" cholesterol levels. Your doctor will recommend these medications depending on your risk of having another heart attack.
If you smoke, it is very important to stop immediately. Heart attack is a complication of coronary artery disease, and it's best prevented by avoiding the risk factors for coronary artery disease, including smoking.
The early treatment of a heart attack aims to restore blood flow and preserve heart muscle. After a heart attack occurs, you need rehabilitation or post-MI care for the heart to heal and to prevent future attacks. Cardiac rehabilitation programs can usually be planned for in hospital and, depending on the severity of the heart attack, may continue for weeks or months once you return home. Post-MI management includes medication, lifestyle changes, and psychological care.
Finally, following a heart attack, some patients may suffer from depression or experience psychological difficulties related to anxiety or anger. Rehabilitation programs offer help in these areas, providing support and counselling for those who may need it. Although having a heart attack can be a frightening experience, most people can return to their normal activities.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
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