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U study: Nearly 90 percent of first-time heart attacks could potentially be prevented

If people took medications known to reduce their risk of a heart attack, nearly 90 percent of first-time heart attacks could be prevented, according to a University of Minnesota study.

The study builds a strong case for increased screening efforts designed to detect heart disease before it becomes symptomatic, especially for people with a history of heart disease in their family. University researchers argue that such screening efforts—regardless of a patient’s blood pressure, cholesterol level, or body mass index—would help people find the therapies they need to reduce their heart attack risk.

Jay Cohn, M.D.

In the study, University cardiologist Jay N. Cohn, M.D., colleague Michael Miedema, M.D., and other researchers from the Minneapolis Heart Institute studied 1,124 consecutive heart attack patients admitted to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis from 2007 through 2010. They identified the patients who had been taking drugs known to prevent heart attacks and those who hadn’t taken any known preventive medications.

Of the 815 people who suffered a first-time heart attack during that timeframe, fewer than 10 percent had been taking drugs—such as statins to lower cholesterol, angiotensin system inhibitors to lower blood pressure, and aspirin to prevent clotting—proven to limit heart attack risk.

“These drugs have all been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, but it’s clear that not enough patients are taking them,” Cohn says. “We now can determine with considerable precision who is at risk and who needs preventive therapy. If we could have gotten these individuals on proper medication, I’m confident that the majority of these first-time heart attacks wouldn’t have happened.”

Even some people with a history of heart attacks were not taking preventive medications. About one-third of the patients studied had suffered a previous attack, but only 30 percent to 50 percent of the people in that group were taking preventive medication.

The University-affiliated Rasmussen Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention screens both at-risk and healthy individuals to detect the early disease that could one day progress to heart attacks or strokes. The screening is noninvasive and free of radiation, and testing can be completed in one hour.

Learn more about the Rasmussen Center or make an appointment by calling 612-672-7422.

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