To understand how heart attacks are treated, it helps to know how and why they occur.
The main culprit is plaque – a fatty substance that accumulates on the inside walls of arteries, including the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle. A heart attack occurs when plaque ruptures in a coronary artery, causing a clot to form. This can restrict or prevent oxygen-rich blood from reaching parts of the heart muscle, causing the deprived heart tissue to die.
Finding and opening the blockage
“Today, we treat heart attacks with angioplasty and stents,” says Paul D. Ryan, MD, medical director of cardiology with Adventist Hinsdale and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospitals. Angioplasty is a non-surgical procedure that can open a blocked artery – essentially stopping a heart attack.
To diagnose a heart attack, doctors perform an angiogram, which is a test that shows which coronary arteries are blocked and to what extent. The cardiac team also attaches EKG leads and sometimes a defibrillator patch to the patient’s chest. Next, they thread a catheter through a large artery, usually on the patient’s thigh, and into the coronary arteries. When the catheter is in place, doctors inject a contrast dye and perform a series of X-rays to create a map showing exactly how blood flows through the coronary arteries.
During an angioplasty, imaging from the angiogram is used to guide doctors to the blockage. A catheter (a thin, flexible tube) with a balloon on the end is then threaded through a blood vessel to the coronary artery. When it reaches the clot, the balloon is inflated to open the blockage, restoring blood flow to the heart. Doctors strive to perform angioplasties as quickly as possible, because the faster a clogged artery is reopened, the more likely a patient is to survive a heart attack.
In most cases, doctors also insert a stent (a small mesh tube) to help keep the artery open. Today, many stents are coated with medication to help prevent future blockages.
Timing is everything
If you or someone you’re with is experiencing heart attack symptoms, it’s important to seek treatment as quickly as possible. By calling 911 for medical attention, paramedics can begin diagnosing and treating heart attacks before you reach the hospital emergency room.
When it comes to getting the heart care you need, Dr. Ryan says finding a hospital with experienced physicians that you are comfortable with is most important. “At Adventist Midwest Health, we’re on the forefront of cardiovascular services and education,” he says. “We pride ourselves in offering top-quality care when you need it most.”
Learn what your risk for heart disease is by registering for our Heart Score screening. This one-on-one, private appointment includes:
• Personal Lifestyle Analysis
• Cholesterol Screening (including HDL and triglycerides)
• Blood Sugar Test
• EKG Test
• Blood Pressure Assessment
• Body-fat Analysis
• Metabolic Syndrome Screening
Valued at $375, this screening is only $65. To register or find a physician, call 866-533-7968.