New England Journal of Medicine Study on Heart Attack Patients

On June 23, 2005, The New England Journal of Medicine published findings of a recent study regarding sudden death after a heart attack. Dr. Scott Solomon, a leading cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston, led this alarming study. The study concluded that heart attack patients are more likely to die suddenly within the first month after suffering a heart attack. The study pointed out that there is a crucial need to develop treatment options for these most vulnerable patients.

The study consisted of 14,609 patients; researches followed their progress for two years. Researchers state, “Nineteen percent of all sudden deaths or episodes of cardiac arrest occurred within the first 30 days after myocardial infarction and 83% of all patients who died suddenly did so within the first 30 days after hospital discharge.” A heart attack occurs when there is significant blockage of blood flow and oxygen to the heart. After a heart attack, scar tissue forms that can interfere with the pumping action of the heart muscles. This can cause arrhythmia (irregular or rapid heartbeat), which can shock the heart and lead to sudden death. This is more likely to happen within the first month after a heart attack. Dr. Solomon states, “we need to consider therapies and strategies. . .that could protect patients during this early vulnerable period following a heart attack.”

Dr. Alfred Buxton, a cardiologist at Brown Medical School played no role in the study, but offered some advice in an article. He suggests, “the solution may be identifying the highest risk patients and employing short term therapies that are not invasive.” He explains that there are defibrillators that could help, but many doctors feel that patients are too vulnerable right after a heart attack for this option. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is currently funding a study that looks at the effectiveness of automated external defibrillators on recent heart attack patients. That is promising, but does not help patients now.

The encouraging news is that there are many treatment options that are extremely effective in treating heart disease. Pharmaceutical companies provide cholesterol lowering and blood pressure controlling medications that save lives everyday. Pacemakers work by maintaining normal heart rhythm. When surgery is necessary, doctors are beginning to use less invasive procedures that reduce the risk of complications.

Despite these major advancements, heart disease still remains the number one killer among Americans. This study points to the necessity of developing ways to treat patients during that critical time period after a heart attack. This is an eye opening study because it shows that people must take responsibility for their health-they must arm themselves with information to fight heart disease. There is an abundance of valuable information to educate people on how to reduce their risk.

Once you understand the factors for heart disease, there are steps that can be taken to lower your risk. Watching your diet, quitting smoking, exercising and knowing your risk can literally save your life. You should be aware of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and communicate with your doctor. If you would like more information about heart disease, log onto to the American Heart Association’s website at

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