How is a heart attack treated?

Early treatment of a heart attack is important to get the blood flowing to the affected part of the heart again (reperfusion) and limit the amount of damage to your heart muscle.

The treatment you receive will depend on a number of things including:

  • What type of heart attack you have had (a STEMI or an NSTEMI)
  • How stable your condition is
  • Time since diagnosis
  • How far it is to the hospital and what facilities are available there

Reperfusion treatment

There are two treatments that can be used to restore blood flow through the blocked artery:

Primary (or emergency) angioplasty

Primary angioplasty (also known as percutaneous coronary intervention)  is the preferred treatment for most people who have had a STEMI, but only if it can be given soon after your symptoms start. Not every hospital has the facilities to carry out primary angioplasty, so the ambulance may take you to a hospital outside your area.


If it is not possible for you to receive primary angioplasty within 2 hours of your diagnosis, you should receive a clot-busting medicine (unless this is not suitable for you because of other health conditions). This is known as thrombolysis, and it helps to dissolve any blood clots that may be blocking your arteries. If you have thrombolysis, you may still need angioplasty at a later date to unblock the narrowed artery.

Antiplatelet treatment

Antiplatelets are medicines that thin the blood and prevent clotting. This starts the process of getting rid of the clot that is blocking a coronary artery as quickly as possible. This is given regardless of what type of heart attack you have had (a STEMI or an NSTEMI).

  • You should be offered an initial dose of 300mg aspirin as soon as a heart attack is suspected (either in the ambulance or as soon as you get to hospital).
  • You may receive a second antiplatelet medicine, depending on the results of your initial tests.
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