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Hospital treatment

Early treatment to restore blood flow to the heart muscle can prevent or limit the amount of damage caused by a heart attack. Learn about the kind of treatment you may receive while in hospital.

treadmill test hospital treatment

A heart attack occurs when there is a blockage in the flow of blood to the heart. Early treatment is vital because the sooner the blood flow can be restored, the less damage there is to the heart.

If you think you're having a heart attack or if you have some heart attack symptoms call 111 immediately.

Once the diagnosis of a heart attack is confirmed, medical staff can start treatment to open up the artery and restore blood flow to the heart.

The type of treatment you receive will depend on:

  • the condition of your coronary arteries
  • the cause of your heart attack and its severity
  • your general health and any other health conditions you might have
  • your distance from certain medical services and the length of time since your heart attack occurred.

Many people will receive emergency heart attack treatment. This could include thrombolysis, angioplasty and/or coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.


Thrombolysis (or thrombolytic therapy) is the injection of medication to quickly dissolve the blood clot that is blocking the artery. It's sometimes called a ‘clot busting’ medication. The medication is injected into a vein (usually in your hand or arm) and administered slowly to dissolve the blood clot. This helps restore blood to flow to the heart and aids in reducing long term damage to the heart muscle.

Bleeding is the most common risk of thrombolytic therapy.

Not everybody will receive thrombolysis because other treatments may be used to open the blood vessels and it is not suitable for all people. It can only be used in the first few hours immediately following a heart attack.


Angioplasty is a procedure in which a special balloon is used to widen the blocked artery and restore blood flow. During the procedure, the doctor will usually put a small mesh tube called a stent in the artery. The stent helps prevent further blockages in the artery in the months or years after the procedure.

The risks associated with coronary angioplasty are very small and include:

  • bleeding at the insertion site
  • damage to blood vessel
  • allergic reaction to the X-ray dye
  • heart attack/stroke.

This procedure is not available in all hospitals in New Zealand and if you live in an area without cardiology services, you may be transferred to another hospital for these procedures.

Some people will not receive angioplasty because it's not beneficial in all cases. Your doctor will decide which treatment is best for you.

Coronary artery bypass graft surgery

A coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) may be performed after a heart attack. It's a major operation during which a blood vessel from another part of the body is grafted to link the aorta and the coronary artery, or arteries.

Possible risks associated with coronary artery bypass graft surgery include, but are not limited to:

  • bleeding during or after the surgery
  • blood clots that can cause heart attack, stroke, or lung problems
  • infection at the incision site
  • pneumonia
  • breathing problems.

Ongoing medication

It's likely you will also begin ongoing medication for heart disease while you are in hospital. These medications are vital for reducing your risk of a further heart event and improving your general wellbeing.

Do I need to take medication?