The chest pain a person often feels in the 24 hours before a heart attack may help save their life, according to a new study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Interventions.
Researchers at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation say that patients who had chest pains not only suffered smaller heart attacks, but had improve cardiac function after being treated. Up to 40 percent of all heart attack patients experience chest pains, also known as pre-infarction angina.
“Even before we began treating heart attack patients with angioplasty and stenting, physicians recognized that patients with chest pain prior to their heart attack seem to have better outcomes,” said research cardiologist and study senior author Dr. Jay Traverse.
What isn’t as clear, said Dr. Traverse, is if the protective benefit still exists in patients who receive angioplasty and stenting. Angioplasty is used to clear blocked heart arteries and stents are inserted to help keep them open.
Prior to this study, there have only been a few, small studies to assess the effect of chest pain prior to cardiac stenting.
After looking at more than 1,000 patients, researchers settled on 245 patients who suffered a first heart attack and underwent angioplasty and stenting. Just over one third of those patients (79) experienced chest pain in the 24 hours before their heart attack.
The patients who experienced chest pain ended up having heart attacks 50 percent smaller than those without chest pain. They also had better heart function when they were discharged from the hospital.
Traverse says the reason for that appears to be that the pre-heart attack chest pain apparently triggers some sort of protective mechanisms in the heart before the onset of a heart attack. He believes future research should focus on identifying precisely what these protective mechanisms are, as they could lead to the development of new drugs to activate these protective mechanisms on demand.
Heart disease claims about 600,000 Americans annually, or about one in every four deaths. It is the leading cause of death in both men and women. Contrary to popular belief, more women die from heart disease than men. Over 715,000 Americans suffer a heart attack every year.
For men, one of the most common symptoms of a heart attack is a crushing chest pain. The symptoms for women are more subtle. Most women report more of a persistent chest pain that can include the neck, shoulder and upper back. Other warning signs include an upset stomach, nausea and vomiting, along with lightheadedness and dizziness, a shortness of breath and excessive sweating.