Heart attacks with no obvious risk factors on the rise

30 August 2017

Researchers have found a significant increase in the number of patients having heart attacks who have no obvious risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or smoking.

Risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being diabetic, or cigarette smoking, have long been used as predictors of developing heart disease.

However, research conducted by University of Sydney and Heart Research Australia has found there is an increasing proportion of heart attack patients without any standard risk factors, such as high cholesterol.

Published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, the study found that the rate of healthy patients having heart attacks increased from 11 percent to a surprising 27 percent over the eight-year study (2006 to 2014).

Cardiologist Professor Gemma Figtree and her team reviewed 695 heart attack patients from at Royal North Shore Hospital and found of these patients, 132 had no known risk factors.

“The proportion of heart attack patients who had no obvious risk factors more than doubled in that time,” said senior author Professor Gemma Figtree.

“These results have important implications for the need to both identify new triggers for heart disease and to better understand the outcomes and best management approach for this group of people.

“The cause for this increase in proportion is not clear. It may be that identification and treatment of standard risk factors like high blood pressure has been successful enough that patients without these treatable conditions are now making up a greater proportion of patients having heart attacks.

“We did find that once these patients have a heart attack, their risk of dying is the same as patients with standard risk factors, so it’s just as important that we try to prevent heart attacks in this group.

“There is a misconception that coronary disease only happens in older men who smoke or live an unhealthy lifestyle. We know that this is not true – these findings highlight that we still don’t know everything about coronary disease.

“Young, fit, women and men develop life-threatening plaque in their heart arteries. Our goal is to identify this at a much earlier stage and to target specific treatments to minimise the progression of disease before it causes heart attacks,” Professor Figtree said.

Fast facts:

  • Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in Australia.
  • Each year around 55,000 Australians suffer a heart attack.  This equates to one heart attack every 10 minutes.
  • Heart attack claims 23 lives each day in Australia.
  • One in four people who die from a heart attack die within the first hour of their first symptom.

Kobi Print

Media and PR Adviser (Medicine and Health)

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