There are a number of operations available to treat heart disease which range from relatively minor procedures such as angioplasties and the fitting of pacemakers, to heart transplants. When a heart attack is suspected, drugs such as aspirin may be given immediately to improve blood flow through the coronary arteries. Pain relief, oxygen and other treatments may also be given.
When a heart attack has been diagnosed, one of two methods may be used to try to reopen the blocked artery.
Treatments for heart disease aim to do one or more things :
- Drugs that dissolve the blood clots blocking the artery have greatly improved the treatment of heart attacks, although they’re not suitable for everyone. Thrombolytics or ‘clot busters’, can restore blood flow in about 60 per cent of cases, although sometimes the artery blocks again later on.
- An operation called percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty or PCI involves inserting a tube into the coronary arteries. The tube carries a deflated balloon that can be inflated in the blocked area to push against the artery walls and open the vessel. In general, PCI produces slightly better long-term results than thrombolytic drugs but it must be carried out in a specialised centre.
The next step in the treatment is to work out which part of the heart is affected, and how badly. This is done by studying an electrocardiogram (ECG: a trace of the electrical activity in the heart) and other tests, in particular a blood test that measures levels of a chemical called troponin, which is released from damaged heart muscle cells.
There are several different types of heart attack. The area of the heart that’s affected has important implications for what sort of complications there may be, how well the patient will recover and the treatment they should be given.
Not so long ago, a heart attack meant weeks of bed rest. Nowadays, people may spend just a few days in hospital, but a much longer process of rehabilitation is important to help the person recover fully, deal with common problems such as depression and reduce the risk of a second attack.