Health Team

Study: First month after a heart attack is critical

Posted November 11, 2008 5:50 p.m. EST
Updated November 12, 2008 10:10 a.m. EST

Though the risk of sudden death after a heart attack has fallen significantly over the past three decades, a new study has found the first month after a heart attack remains a period of increased danger.

During the month following a heart attack, patients are more likely to suffer sudden cardiac death, which is unexpected death caused by heart failure.

“The risk of sudden death is related to the extent of damage to the muscle,” said Dr. Bill Slater, a heart rhythm specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center.

The study also highlights the importance of patients reporting symptoms – like chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue – after they are released from the hospital.

"Those are really the predictors that either there's some mischief brewing in the blood flow, or that the heart muscle is not pumping adequately,” Slater said.

Patients must also realize that prescribed drugs could be vital in keeping them alive, the study said.

Some changes, including cutting back on strenuous activity, should also be made during the first month.

Tom Carulli made adjustments in his diet following his sudden heart attack. He is on a drug regimen and undergoes a monthly blood test.

The risk of sudden death drops dramatically after those first 30 days, the study showed.

"Three or four months into it I'm back to running three miles a day and coaching my daughter's softball team,” Carulli said.