In my first column discussing heart attacks, I described their risks, symptoms and the necessity of rapid treatment.
It is important to know that when a heart attack strikes, time equals muscle. The longer the delay in seeking medical care, the more heart muscle will be damaged.
In this article, I’d like to talk about what happens to a person after suffering a nonfatal heart attack.
Upon arrival to the emergency room, a patient is immediately placed on a cardiac monitor to measure heart rhythm. Vital signs are taken, with blood pressure and pulse being of primary importance. Oxygen is administered, and an aspirin tablet is given. An EKG (electrocardiogram) is done, verifying heart rhythm, rate and possible damage, and blood is drawn and sent to the laboratory. An IV will be started to allow for the immediate injection of any necessary drugs. Both the EKG and blood tests may be repeated to check for changes.
When the diagnosis is confirmed and when the patient is in stable condition, he or she may immediately undergo coronary angiography — a special X-ray of the heart and blood vessels that can identify the location of blockages in the coronary arteries.
This exam is performed by a medical specialist who passes a thin, flexible tube called a catheter through an artery in either an arm or the groin. A dye is injected through the catheter, and as it passes through the coronary arteries it is seen on the X-ray and helps identify the blockage. With the blockage located, the doctor can then open the blockage via angioplasty (a technique that inflates a balloon inside the blood vessel) and restore the blood flow.
Sometimes, a small mesh tube called a stent can be placed in an attempt to keep the blockage open.
In some smaller communities where angioplasty is not available, another method of opening arteries is by prescribing medication called a thrombolytic, commonly called a “clot buster,” which can help to dissolve a clot. The sooner after a heart attack this is done, the better, as it increases survival rates and decreases the chance of damage to the heart.
In some cases, doctors may perform emergency bypass surgery at the time of a heart attack, especially if multiple blockages are identified. This procedure involves sewing another blood vessel from your own body to bypass the blocked coronary artery, restoring blood flow to the heart. This surgery, as well as the above-mentioned angioplasty, is available in our community.
Most people can return to work and the activities they enjoy after having a heart attack.
Exercise especially has many benefits for people after a heart attack. It can strengthen the heart muscle as well as make one feel more energetic.
The amount of activity you can do depends on the condition of your heart. Your doctor can help you plan the necessary steps for your recovery.