The risk of death from heart attack could rise by more than 50 percent for people with diabetes, finds a new study by researchers from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

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Researchers find the risk of death from heart attack may be much higher for diabetes patients.

According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 29.1 million people in the United States have diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form. It occurs when the body is unable to use the hormone insulin effectively, resulting in abnormal blood glucose levels.

Type 1 diabetes, which accounts for around 5 percent of all diabetes cases, arises when the body is unable to produce insulin.

It is well established that people with diabetes are at much greater risk for numerous other health problems, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.

For the new study, lead researcher Dr. Chris Gale, of the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, and colleagues set out to investigate the long-term risk of death from heart attack, or myocardial infarction, among people with diabetes – a risk that has previously been unclear.

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

The team analyzed the data of 703,920 individuals from the U.K. acute myocardial infarction registry, of whom around 121,000 had diabetes.

Fast facts about heart attack
  • In the U.S., someone has a heart attack every 43 seconds
  • 735,000 heart attacks occur in the U.S. every year
  • 1 in 5 heart attacks are silent – where an individual experiences heart damage but are unaware they have had a heart attack.

Learn more about heart attack

A total of 281,259 patients had experienced an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) – described as a “classic” heart attack, where an electrocardiogram (ECG) shows a complete blockage of the coronary artery, causing damage to a large area of the heart.

The remaining 422,661 patients had experienced a non-STEMI heart attack, where the coronary artery is partially blocked.

The researchers matched the data from these patients with that of the general population of England and Wales, in order to compare the risk of heart attack death in people with and without diabetes.

Compared with individuals without diabetes, the team found that those with diabetes were at 56 percent greater risk of death from a STEMI heart attack and at 39 percent greater risk of death from a non-STEMI heart attack.

These results remained after accounting for a number of potentially confounding factors, such as patients’ age, sex, other illnesses, and differences in emergency medical treatment.

Dr. Gale says the study provides “robust evidence that diabetes is a significant long-term population burden among patients who have had a heart attack.”

Although these days people are more likely than ever to survive a heart attack, we need to place greater focus on the long-term effects of diabetes in heart attack survivors.

The partnership between cardiologists, GPs and diabetologists needs to be strengthened and we need to make sure we are using established medications as effectively as possible among high-risk individuals.”

Dr. Chris Gale

Dr. Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation – which funded the study – says that although it was known that people with diabetes were at greater risk of death from heart attack, these findings show this increased risk is due to diabetes itself, rather than other co-existing conditions.

“This research highlights the need to find new ways to prevent coronary heart disease in people with diabetes and develop new treatments to improve survival after a heart attack,” he adds.

In future studies, the researchers plan to investigate the underlying mechanisms that might explain why diabetes raises the risk of death from heart attack.

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