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What are the best treatments for a heart attack?

A heart attack caused by blocked coronary arteries can be treated in a few different ways. The most common way is to “unblock” the artery by opening it up and clearing the blockage. If multiple arteries are blocked, sometimes coronary artery bypass surgery is the better route. If other parts of the heart are damaged, additional procedures are available to repair or replace heart valves or to regulate heart rhythm with a pacemaker. Let’s go over each of these:


This is commonly called a “balloon” procedure. A catheter is threaded up through an artery in the groin or arm, and when it reaches the blockage, the cardiologist uses a balloon to push the plaque outward against the artery wall, creating a clear path for blood flow. After an angioplasty, many people go home the same day or the next day and can resume normal activities in a week or so.

Cardiac Stent: A stent is placed via a catheter threaded through a blood vessel, similar to balloon angioplasty. The stent is an expandable coil made of metal mesh. It is threaded into the blockage, opening it up and holding the vessel open for blood flow. Typically, patients spend the night in the hospital after a stent placement, then go home to resume normal activities in a few days.

Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery: This surgery is often called “open-heart surgery.” It is a major surgery that uses veins taken from the chest or legs of the patient and used to “bypass” or go around the blocked coronary arteries – usually three, four, or even five blockages. The major incision is down the middle of the chest along the sternum. This surgery requires several days in the hospital and a recovery period of at least 6 to 8 weeks. 

Valve Replacement Surgery: When a valve malfunctions or becomes weak, this causes blood to not flow correctly through the heart chambers. There are four valves in the heart, but the most commonly replaced are the aortic or mitral valves. There are many different types of procedures to replace or repair valves. 

Most are major surgeries, with a recovery time of 4 to 6 weeks.

Pacemaker: There are many different types of pacemakers these days, but they have one thing in common – they guard against potentially life-threatening heart arrhythmias. When a heart has an altered rhythm, it causes risk for blood clots, pumps very inefficiently, and may stop pumping blood at all. Symptoms can range from dizziness and a feeling of palpitations to passing out and even death. Pacemakers are typically implanted in the chest area and require a recovery time of 2 to 4 weeks.

What is a heart attack?

What causes blockage?

Can a heart attack fix itself?

How can you prevent a heart attack?

Is a heart attack the same as cardiac arrest?

* Savings estimate based on a study of more than 1 billion claims comparing self-pay (or cash pay) prices of a frequency-weighted market basket of procedures to insurer-negotiated rates for the same. Claims were collected between July 2017 and July 2019. R.Lawrence Van Horn, Arthur Laffer, Robert L.Metcalf. 2019. The Transformative Potential for Price Transparency in Healthcare: Benefits for Consumers and Providers. Health Management Policy and Innovation, Volume 4, Issue 3.

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