Importance of immediate treatment for heart attack and unstable angina

The immediate treatment goal for unstable angina or a heart attack is to prevent damage to the heart. More specifically:

  • Treatment for unstable angina seeks to stabilize your condition and prevent a heart attack.
  • Treatment for a heart attack seeks to limit the amount of permanent damage to your heart.

If you are experiencing an episode of unstable angina or a heart attack, your doctor will consider using several different medicines. These medicines will help you by:

  • Getting more blood and oxygen to your heart muscle. Unstable angina causes chest pain because your heart muscle is being deprived of blood and oxygen, and a heart attack damages your heart for the same reason. Medicines that help get more oxygen to your heart muscle can help relieve the pain or keep the heart muscle alive and prevent damage.
  • Stopping the blood clot in your coronary artery from growing larger. If a blood clot has partially blocked your coronary artery, medicines that attack the clot can prevent the clot from getting bigger and completely blocking your artery, which reduces your risk for developing an actual heart attack. If your artery is already blocked, these medicines can prevent the clot from getting bigger while you are waiting for more extensive treatment to restore blood flow through or around the blocked artery.
  • Reducing the stress on your heart. The harder your heart must work, the more oxygen it needs. Medicines that reduce the stress on your heart can reduce the heart's need for oxygen and relieve the pain and damage that a lack of oxygen causes. Several medicines do this by opening up your blood vessels, slowing your heart rate, or lowering your blood pressure. Less pressure in your blood vessels makes it easier for your heart to pump blood.

Last Updated: May 5, 2009

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