By LEE BOWMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
December 08, 2005
Each year in the United States, nearly 1 million people suffer from heart attacks, which occur when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is severely reduced or blocked. Within six years of a heart attack, nearly 20 percent of men and 35 percent of women will have another heart attack, and within the first year of a heart attack, 25 percent of men and 38 percent of women will die from another one.
Heart-attack risk rises during the fall and winter, with December being the peak month for new diagnosis.
Harris Interactive did the survey of 518 people 18 and older who had survived at least one heart attack for a heart-attack-survivor advocacy group called Mended Hearts, affiliated with the American Heart Association. The results, released Thursday, were adjusted to be representative of the population of adults who have been diagnosed with a heart attack.
"I was particularly surprised that those surveyed indicated they fear another heart attack more than death, yet a substantial number are not doing everything they can to avoid that fear from being realized," said Gus Littlefield, a board member of the support group.
Ninety percent of the respondents said their heart attack had forced them to face their own mortality and almost the same percentage said they realized they're at increased risk for another heart attack.
But 80 percent said they needed more information to manage their heart health. "My hope is that through the ongoing efforts of Mended Hearts and some new tools, we can educate people on how to prevent a heart attack and motivate them to take action," Littlefield said.
Dr. William Abraham, director of cardiovascular medicine at the Ohio State University Medical Center, said "the level of awareness among patients and physicians about the right thing to do after a heart attack remains relatively poor.
"In my practice, many of my patients who have had a heart attack are very aware and afraid of their increased risk of having another one; they don't do everything they can to live a healthy lifestyle," Abraham said.
While he follows treatment guidelines that call for most heart patients to be prescribed preventive drugs and aspirin therapy, and counsels patients to adjust their diets and begin exercising, Abraham said the "resolve to diet and particularly to exercise fall by the wayside first."
The other problem he sees for many heart patients is that they become so depressed and fearful of having another attack that they "miss out on the joy of life. As one example, there's this notion, often portrayed in movies, that having sex increases the risk of a heart attack. Many patients experience this negative impact on their intimate relationships, when in fact that sort of vigorous activity doesn't present a particularly high risk," Abraham said.
The survey also underscored differences in how men and women perceive and deal with their risk. While 92 percent of men said they were seeing a doctor regularly about their heart, only 72 percent of women said they were doing so.
"Even though as many or more women die from heart disease as men, it's still thought of as a man's disease, and heart attacks are still treated more conservatively in women than men," Abraham said. "Our therapies for women may not be as good because they've been underrepresented in trials of new drugs to treat heart disease."
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