Heart disease is still the leading killer in the U.S, but first-time heart attacks are becoming less severe and less deadly than in the past.
Reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, this long-running study shows that survival for first time heart attack victims has improved.
Merle Myerson, M.D., Ed.D., cardiologist and director of the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Program at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital of Columbia University in New York City says, “This landmark study suggests that better prevention and better management in the hospital have contributed to the reduction in deaths."
Dr. Myerson says that conditions leading to heart disease such as blood pressure and cholesterol are better managed.
Myerson and colleagues collected data from rural communities gathered from 1987 to 1994, and additional data through 2002 of more than 10,000 first-time heart attack patients.
Whether black, white, men or women, all had improved trends for survival. The death rate decreased marginally from 5.3 percent in 1987 to 3.8 percent in 2002 - considered to be of “borderline significance”.
What was more significant was the severity of damage to heart tissue following a heart attack. Measured by the ST-designated portion of an ECG, which is an indicator of severe damage. It was reduced from 27.7 percent in 1987 to 20.9 percent in 2002.
Other markers of permanent damage to the heart are cardiogenic shock, where the heart is damaged so much so that it cannot pump blood to the body. That rate decreased 5.7 percent a year.
Dr. Myerson says it is not clear why the improved picture – whether its better prevention such as controlling high blood pressure and obesity or better treatment in the hospital. "While this study doesn't say it, it points to some influence from both. We need more research to answer the question,” she says.
Knowing the key heart attack warning signs can mean the difference between life and death. Feeling like an elephant is sitting on your chest is a sure sign of a heart attack, but so are feelings of indigestion, lightheadedness, shortness of breath or discomfort in the chest or arms.
Those arriving at the hospital within the first two hours of symptoms remains at 33 percent. Early intervention remains a key to improving survival.
Government figures show deaths from heart disease have declined by 30 percent over the last decade. #