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Heart attack survivors missing the beat

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Many heart attack survivors underestimate their risk of having a future heart attack and fail to follow their GP’s advice or attend rehabilitation, according to a new report.

The study found around 40 per cent of heart attack survivors admitted to not following their GPs instructions to improve their heart heath.

One in three (34 per cent) reported that they occasionally forgot to take their prescribed medication, and only 54 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women attended cardiac rehabilitation after their heart attack.

Those who did attend rehabilitation were found to have an increased understanding of their illness and were more concerned about having a repeat event.

Carers were found to be more deeply affected by the heart attack of their loved one than the survivors themselves, were burdened by greater concern about the attack and were worried when survivors did not take responsibility for their future heart health.

One in ten heart attack survivors reported being current smokers and 93 per cent felt their cholesterol was under control, despite one third (35 per cent) of survivors having total cholesterol levels above the recommended treatment targets.

The majority of survivors believed lifestyle changes were important to maintain good health, but 83 per cent of women and 73 per cent of men reported this as a challenge. The majority, 58 per cent, did not adhere to a healthy diet and only 32 per cent exercised regularly.

The report, by Baker IDI, was based on data from more than 1000 people – 536 of whom had survived a heart attack following hospitalisation, and 511 who cared for a survivor.

Lead researcher Professor Simon Stewart from Baker IDI said the study served as a major wake up call to Australians living with coronary heart disease, and highlighted the need for more effective prevention and support programs for heart attack survivors.

“The findings suggest that heart attack survivors are failing to make the necessary lifestyle changes to mitigate their risk of a repeat heart attack,” Professor Stewart said.

“Nearly one in four people who are fortunate to survive a heart attack will go on to have another episode or require medical intervention. Within a year, one in 11 of these people will die. But, despite the odds, many of the survivors we surveyed weren’t following optimal care strategies.

“I think we need to place greater emphasis on patient education, supported by innovative strategies such as telephone support and in-home care.”

Commenting on the report, The Heart Foundation’s National Director of Cardiovacsular Heath Dr Rob Grenfell said the findings highlighted the worrying fact that most people who survived a heart attack thought that they were ‘fixed’ following discharge from hospital.

“Our hospitals are well equipped to treat heart attacks, and currently Australians have the best chance of surviving their heart attack then ever before, with deaths from heart attack declining by 39 per cent over the last two decades,” Dr Grenfell said. “However, as a patient leaves hospital, our health system does not appear to adequately provide ongoing care and support. There is a limited connection between services, and essential lifestyle programs are disjointed or, frankly, unsupported.”

Kirsty Waterford