A heart attack (acute myocardial infarction) can have a profound effect on your quality of life. If you have a heart attack, some of your heart muscle becomes damaged and dies. That’s why treatment for heart attacks focuses on preserving your heart’s function and preventing another heart attack in the future.
When a Heart Attack Strikes, Every Second Counts
It is important to recognize the signs of a heart attack and to act immediately by calling 9-1-1, even if you are not sure you're having a heart attack. The faster you are treated, the lower your risk is of heart muscle damage or death.
All of the following can be signs of a heart attack:
- chest discomfort, pressure, tightness
- nausea, vomiting, belching
- pain or discomfort in the center of the chest (for women)
- shortness of breath
- squeezing that spreads through the chest and/or radiates to other areas of the body
- unusual fatigue
Special Care for Heart Attacks
While all heart attacks require prompt care, the severity and corresponding treatment plan may vary. If an artery becomes completely blocked, for example, and the damage involves the full thickness of the heart muscle, the resulting life-threatening condition is known as an ST elevation MI, or STEMI. Treatment for STEMI is different from that for other types of heart attacks. As a result, it is important that a heart attack patient be taken by ambulance to a hospital designated as a STEMI receiving center - where a STEMI can be treated within 90 minutes or less, as American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association guidelines suggest. Always call 9-1-1 if you suspect a heart attack to ensure you receive treatment as fast as possible.
St. John's designation as a STEMI receiving center means heart attack patients have access to our three state-of-the-art catheterization laboratories, where minimally invasive diagnostic heart procedures are available within minutes. Our fast treatment times improve chances of survival and a full recovery.
Treating Heart Attacks at St. John's
Common emergency treatments for heart attack include:
- Oxygen — to help with shortness of breath
- Aspirin — to prevent blood clots
- Nitroglycerine — to relax your blood vessels and ease the load on your heart
- Intravenous pain medication — to ease chest pain and relieve anxiety
If you are diagnosed with a heart attack, you will likely undergo one of the following surgeries:
- Coronary angioplasty. This procedure clears blockages in arteries supplying your heart.
- Stent placement. Stents hold your arteries open after blockages have been cleared.
- Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. This treatment creates a new path for blood to supply the heart, bypassing blocked blood vessels.
After you recover, you may be asked to consider some follow-up care options, including:
- Medications — help manage heart conditions like high blood pressure
- Quitting smoking — improves your lung health and lowers your risk for another heart attack
- Lifestyle changes — eating a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise
- Cardiac rehabilitation — medically supervised program to help keep your heart healthy
Choosing Your Treatment Options
When you’re having a heart attack, treatment decisions have to be made quickly. The need for immediate intervention will likely prevent an opportunity to fully consider all options.
However, after you recover from your surgical procedure, you will be able to discuss your preferred follow-up treatments with your Dignity Health St. John's doctor. Your doctor’s recommendations will take into account your overall health, the extent of damage to your heart, and the severity of your heart disease.
Almost all heart attacks can be prevented if you:
- Don’t smoke or quit
- Get treatment for heart conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Control your blood sugar if you have type 2 diabetes
- Eat a low-sodium (salt) diet, rich in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Cope effectively with stress
Find a Doctor
For a cardiologist at St. John's, call (877) 753-6248
, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For emergency heart care, call 9-1-1.