Fewer people today die from having a heart attack than in generations past. Improved medical care has something to do with that. But there is also evidence that the severity of first heart attacks has declined.
A study published today in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Assn. looked at data on heart attacks from thousands of people across the United States, both men and women, Caucasians and African Americans. The researchers examined certain measurements taken from each patient that suggest how severe the heart attack was, such as the patient's electrocardiogram findings and the levels of enzymes found in the blood that are associated with heart muscle damage. From this they concluded that patients having their first heart attack today are less sick.
The researchers, from St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital of Columbia University in New York City, said the findings could not be attributed to getting to the hospital sooner. The percentage of patients who arrived at the hospital in less than two hours after symptoms began remained at about 33% from 1987 to 2002. Instead, people are controlling their cholesterol and high blood pressure better so that, even if they have a heart attack, the damage is less severe.
"The reduction in severity of first-time heart attacks, along with other factors, has impacted on the declining number of deaths from coronary heart disease," Dr. Merle Myerson, a cardiologist and lead author of the paper, said in a news release. "This tell us that better primary prevention as well as better care for those with acute heart attacks is working."
Information on surviving a heart attack can be found on the website of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
-- Shari Roan
Photo: A doctor monitors a cardiac catheterization of a patient who has just had a heart attack. Credit: Tony Talbot / Associated Press