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Higher mortality heart attack patients with no known risk factors

The risk factors for heart attacks are widely known, but for some patients, they happen without any prior warning. 

An international study led by Professor Gemma Figtree has found that these patients make up around 15 per cent of all heart attack patients.  

The typical risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low physical activity, smoking, and obesity, but some patients, like Jennifer Tucker, experience arterial blockage despite not having any of these.

Jen was a fit, non-smoking 35-year-old mum of two when she started experiencing tightness in her chest and breathlessness during exercise.

A persistent cardiologist convinced her to get an angiogram, which revealed a 90 per cent blockage of her artery.

“I was absolutely stunned when they told me my heart was 90 per cent blocked,” Jen said.

“It was a very lucky escape for me.”

The study released in the Lancet found that patients like Jen are significantly less likely to receive medical therapy at discharge, which may be a contributing factor to the poorer outcomes in the group with no prior risk. 

“Despite their perceived low risk of having coronary disease, they had a much higher mortality rate compared to people who had traditional risk factors explaining a heart attack,” Gemma said.

This difference in treatment is particularly pronounced in women. 

A woman who had a heart attack related to plaque in [her] arteries [with no risk factors] had a three times higher mortality [risk] than a male heart attack patient with risk factors.
Professor Gemma Figtree

“It shows we need to think beyond traditional risk factors to find out what is driving the increased heart attacks and mortality.” 

To investigate this further, Gemma’s team has been awarded an NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence to develop new approaches to improve outcomes in patients with coronary artery disease.

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