The lives of almost 80,000 heart attack victims have been saved in just under a decade as deaths have halved due to healthier lives and better treatment, research has found.
The greatest decline in heart attacks and deaths was in the middle-aged with the smallest decrease among younger and older people, the study conducted at Oxford University found. There were 18,576 fewer deaths from heart attacks in 2010 compared with 2002, and 76,978 fewer deaths in total over those years.
Researchers said there had been fewer heart attacks due to improvements in lifestyle such as increasing numbers giving up smoking, better diets and preventive drugs for raised cholesterol and high blood pressure.
More lives of heart attack victims are now being saved thanks to new emergency procedures to reopen blocked arteries, faster ambulance response times, quicker diagnosis and drugs such as statins and aspirin. The smoking ban introduced in England in 2007 has also contributed as other studies have shown an almost immediate drop in heart attacks.
However the researchers said the rapid decline in heart attacks deaths is slowing, especially in younger people and this is probably due to increasing obesity and diabetes in those groups.
Prof Michael Goldacre told the Daily Telegraph: “These beneficial trends needs to be considered against the adverse trends in obesity and diabetes.
“Clearly to date the benefits are substantially outstripping the adverse trends. There is an important question, though, about how long that will continue. The very substantial decline looks to be levelling off in the very young.”
The study, funded by the British Heart Foundation and published online in the British Medical Journal, also found localised peaks in heart attacks.
One such peak occurred in London between 2007 and 2009 which the authors say corresponds with the financial crisis.
The researchers wrote in the paper: “The increase in acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) event rate in London between 2007 and 2009 may be a result of the financial crisis that peaked in 2008 and greatly affected the London financial district.
“As a result, the reductions in case fatality accounted for most of the decline in deaths from acute myocardial infarction in that region during the 2000s.”
However the authors did not state the size of this peak. The National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease introduced in 2000 revolutionised the treatment of heart attacks with faster diagnosis and access to clot-busting drugs and then procedures to reopen blocked arteries.
Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “This impressive fall in death rates is due partly to prevention of heart attacks by better management of risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol and due partly to better treatment of heart attack patients when they reach hospital.
“But far too many heart attack victims still die from a cardiac arrest before medical help arrives. Many of these deaths could be prevented by rapid Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Our message is simple: ‘hands-only’ CPR, as shown by Vinnie Jones, could save many more lives in the future.”
The study investigated all heart attacks in England between 2002 and 2010, a total of 840,175 people who were admitted to hospital with a heart attack.
The researchers concluded: “Both prevention of acute myocardial infarction and acute medical treatment have contributed to the decline in deaths from acute myocardial infarction over the past decade.”
An accompanying editorial by Hugh Tunstall-Pedoe, emeritus professor of cardiovascular epidemiology, at the Institute of Cardiovascular Research, University of Dundee, said two other studies had also found a reduction in deaths due to heart attacks.
He said: “It is difficult to believe that big reductions in coronary case fatality over decades are determined exclusively by drugs — perhaps patients are now fitter and coronary episodes less severe.
“Governmental effectiveness cannot be tested in a controlled trial. One indicator is the ability of the health department to counteract vested interests, such as those of the tobacco industry and manufacturers of processed foods, thereby knocking out the props that hold disease rates up.”
Health Minister Simon Burns said: “These improvements are welcome and demonstrate the progress made in tackling heart disease in recent years. But we know we can do better and some areas still lag behind.
“That is why this Government has begun work to develop a Cardiovascular Disease Outcomes Strategy. We will continue to work hard to reduce heart attack deaths all across the country.”
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