Heart Attack

Recovery and Rehabilitation

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A heart attack is a medical emergency that requires urgent attention. If you or a loved one are experiencing heart attack symptoms like sudden, intense pain in the chest, neck, back, or arms call 911 immediately.

About Heart Attacks

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI), happens when blood flow to your heart suddenly becomes restricted or blocked. This is commonly caused by a buildup of fats and/or cholesterol in the coronary arteries that carry blood to the heart. Without blood flow, the heart muscle can become damaged and die.

Diagnosing a Heart Attack
If you’re experiencing a heart attack, you need fast, effective care. Call 911 immediately to get to a hospital quickly.

At Duke, doctors diagnose a heart attack using an electrocardiogram (EKG), which identifies abnormal electrical activity in the heart, blood tests to measure proteins that are released after a heart attack, and imaging tests to detect heart damage.

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Emergency Heart Attack Care

When a heart attack happens, it is vital to receive fast, expert care to limit heart muscle damage. The following treatments may be given at the hospital:

  • Medications like aspirin, nitroglycerin, clot-busters (also called thrombolytics), blood thinners, and beta-blockers work in different ways to decrease blood pressure and relieve the strain on the heart caused by a heart attack.
  • Angioplasty with stenting, also called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), is a minimally invasive procedure that helps re-establish blood flow to the heart as quickly as possible. 
  • Heart bypass surgery, also called coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), reroutes blood flow around a blocked coronary artery. 
  • Hybrid surgery combines the best of angioplasty and bypass surgery to decrease recovery time.
Our Locations

Emergency heart attack care is provided at our hospitals' emergency room locations in Durham and Raleigh. We offer post heart attack care in locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

Post Heart Attack Treatment

We want to help you improve your heart health and resume normal activities as soon as possible after a heart attack. Most people can return to work after two to six weeks, depending on your heart attack severity.

Medicines can help your heart recover, protect it from future damage, and optimize your overall heart function.

Mental and Emotional Support 
It’s common for people to experience anxiety, depression, and other types of emotional distress after a heart attack. Our psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors offer a range of services to support your mental health.

Cardiac Rehabilitation
Duke’s cardiac rehab program offers education and resources –- like nutrition counseling, exercise instruction, stress management, smoking cessation programs, and more -- to overcome the effects of a heart attack, establish long-term lifestyle changes, and boost your heart health.

Our cardiac rehab team includes nurses, physical therapists, exercise physiologists, a social worker, and a registered dietitian. We closely monitor your vital signs during rehab sessions to ensure your activity is safe and effective.

Make an Appointment for Post Heart Attack Care

Why Choose Duke

Leaders in Prompt Heart Attack Treatment
Duke helped develop and lead a statewide program that shortens the time between heart attack evaluation by emergency responders and receiving crucial treatment in a hospital. This program, now known as Mission: Lifeline, was adopted by the American Heart Association and is credited with helping reduce death by about 25% in those experiencing out-of-hospital heart attacks.

Nationally Recognized for Heart Attack Care
Duke University Hospital is recognized by the American Heart Association’s Get With the Guidelines initiative for cardiac care and for its role in improving the quality of care of people who experience life-threatening heart attacks.

More than 5,500 Cardiac Cath Procedures Performed Annually 
Research shows that hospitals and doctors who perform more surgeries tend to have better outcomes. Our cardiologists perform more than 5,500 cardiac catheterizations each year, including interventional procedures like angioplasty and stent placements to open blocked arteries.

Heart Bypass Surgery for High-Risk Patients
We perform heart bypass surgery in people who have high risk, complex conditions, multiple blockages, or blockages in difficult-to-reach locations. Even if you’ve been turned away at other centers, we may be able to offer treatment options for you.

More Surgical Options
Our surgeons perform minimally invasive techniques when appropriate. During heart bypass surgery, we can use small incisions to harvest veins, resulting in less scarring and faster recovery.

Access to New Treatments
As a Duke patient, you may be eligible to participate in clinical trials that are testing new heart attack treatments and surgical techniques before they are widely available. 

Best Heart Hospital in North Carolina

When it comes to your heart care, you want the very best. Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why our cardiology and heart surgery program is nationally ranked, and the highest-ranked program in North Carolina, according to U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

This page was medically reviewed on 02/05/2024