Predicting Who Will -- and Won't -- Survive a Heart Attack

Victims who are black, very obese or have high blood pressure at higher risk of death, study finds

THURSDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- It may be possible to predict who will survive or die as the result of a first heart attack, researchers have found.

They analyzed data from more than 18,000 people in two of the largest U.S. cardiovascular studies and pinpointed certain traits that could predict the risk that a heart attack would be fatal. Those traits included having high blood pressure, being black and having a very high body mass index (BMI) -- a measurement based on height and weight.

"For some people, the first heart attack is more likely to be their last," lead author Dr. Elsayed Z. Soliman, director of the Epidemiological Cardiology Research Center (EPICARE) at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said in a center news release. "For these people especially, it is important that we find ways to prevent that first heart attack from ever happening because their chances of living through it are not as good."

Among the researchers' findings:

  • Blacks are at higher risk than non-blacks of sudden cardiac death, in which the heart suddenly stops beating, but are at less risk of coronary heart disease.
  • High blood pressure and increased heart rate were stronger predictors of sudden cardiac death than coronary heart disease.
  • Extreme high or low BMI was predictive of increased risk of sudden cardiac death, but not of coronary heart disease.
  • Certain markers that can be identified by doctors evaluating patients' electrocardiograms (ECGs) are associated with increased risk of sudden cardiac death.

The study was released online July 20 in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Heart.

If the findings are validated and confirmed in future research, doctors will be able to identify patients who are at greater risk of dying if they suffer a heart attack and prescribe ways to reduce their risk, Soliman said.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about heart attack.

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