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Heart attack survivors ‘unaware of risks’

Survey raises fears that many heart attack survivors are not receiving adequate long-term care.

Heart attack survivors underestimate the danger of suffering another attack within a year and struggle to make crucial lifestyle changes, a survey has revealed.

Some also tinker with their medications without telling their doctors and fail to attend special rehabilitation programs.

The findings from a Heart Support-Australia survey of 300 attack survivors have raised fears that many are not receiving adequate long-term care.

Australian hospitals treat 55,700 heart attack cases each year, with more than 10,000 patients dying.

Among those who survive, one in five will have another heart attack or need heart surgery within 12 months and one in 11 will die in the same period.

Despite the statistics, many patients are putting themselves at risk of a second attack.

The survey found while nearly half the 300 survivors felt lucky to be alive, and nearly nine out of 10 did not know or underestimated the risk of a second attack within 12 months.

Almost as many (79 per cent) did not realise or underestimated their chances of dying.

While all survivors treated in hospital were meant to be invited to six-week rehabilitation programs, 40 per cent did not go.

Most, however, (85 per cent) did make lifestyle changes such as improving their diets and exercising more, with more than a third driven by the fear of another attack.

But one quarter gave up their healthier habits after just three months.

And despite medication being prescribed to prevent future attacks, more than one third either stopped taking it or changed their dosage without consulting their GP.

Australian Cardiovascular Health and Rehabilitation Association's outgoing president Paula Candlish said many survivors underestimated the chance of having a second attack because of a lack of standardised information about the risks.

Rehab centres were "overloaded" with patients and lacked the resources to follow up survivors once they finished their six-week stints.

She said more dedicated money was needed from the federal government to ensure survivors received the long-term care they needed by making regular checks to see they were maintaining healthy lifestyles, exercising and taking their medication.

Candlish said once patients completed their rehab programs they were discharged "with the hope that they keep going".

"We don't have the capacity to do any more than that," she said.

"What we would like to see is all people discharged from rehab are recontacted so they can come back if they need or receive help over the phone."

Heart Support-Australia chief executive and heart attack survivor Brian Dooley said having a register of survivors would also make it easier to keep track of patients.

But he said many were too "cavalier" about their health.

"They get through the attack and some feel as though they are bullet proof, especially those who go straight back to work," he said.


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