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HealthInfo Canterbury

Diagnosing & treating a heart attack

Yard heart attackIf you or someone close to you has heart attack symptoms call 111 and ask for an ambulance.

The ambulance paramedic will do a heart tracing (ECG). They may put a small tube, called an intravenous line, into a vein in your arm so they can give you medicine for pain relief.

They may give you an aspirin tablet to thin your blood (unless there is a reason for them not to). They might also give you oxygen through tubes that sit just inside your nose. They will take you to hospital by ambulance, where you will have further tests and treatment.

If you have had heart attack symptoms in the past, talk to your GP about it so they can decide if you need to have any further tests.

Treatment for a heart attack

After a heart attack it's very important to open up the blocked blood vessels as soon as possible. The main treatments for a heart attack are thrombolysis, angioplasty, medication and heart bypass surgery (also called coronary artery bypass graft surgery).

Whichever treatment you have, you will need to stay in hospital for a few days, so doctors can monitor your heart to check that it's stable.

You will start gently walking about during this time. You may also have an echocardiogram (echo) to check how your heart and valves are working. An echo test uses sound waves to create a live image of your heart, much like an ultrasound scan of a baby during pregnancy.

You will very likely go home with medicines for your heart. It's important to always take them exactly as your doctor tells you to. Talk to your GP before you take any over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen (Nurofen) or other anti-inflammatories, or any natural remedies. Sometimes these can interfere with your heart medicines.

Rehabilitation after a heart attack

cardiac rehabRehabilitation (rehab) after a heart attack is extremely important. If you follow your rehab programme you are much more likely to recover successfully, and less likely to have another heart attack.

It's normal to be a bit worried about attending a rehab programme, but keep going – you will gain new knowledge and learn new strategies for keeping well.

Cardiac rehab programmes generally have three stages:

  1. in hospital, where you will receive information and education
  2. an outpatients programme once you go home
  3. continuing support in your community.

You can also find useful information and resources for living well after a heart attack or with angina on the HeartHelp Hub.

The New Zealand Heart Foundation website has excellent information about how to approach your rehab from a heart attack, including information about returning to activities, managing depression and anxiety, relaxation, managing stress, driving and travel, and relationships.

The Heart Foundation's booklet Living well after a heart attack also answers many common questions, and has practical tips for recovering and making lifestyle changes.

On the next page: Life after a heart attack

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by Cardiology GP liaison. Page created August 2016.


See also:

Tests for heart problems

Page reference: 262424

Review key: HIHAT-110391