Cardiac Patients Dying Less From Heart Troubles

Heart disease patients cause of death more likely to be cancer or chronic diseases

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It seems logical that patients with heart problems would eventually die as a result of their condition, but this might not be the case today.

In a new study that followed patients who underwent procedures to treat blocked arteries, a shift in the patients' causes of death was discovered.

The researchers found that as time went on, fewer patients were dying from heart-related troubles and more were dying from cancer and other chronic conditions.

"Talk to a doctor if normal activities leave you short of breath."

According to the study authors — who were led by Rajiv Gulati, MD, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota — though heart disease is still a major problem, there has been evidence that heart disease patients are living longer after procedures.

To explore the lives of heart disease patients, the researchers followed patients who underwent a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), a procedure that helps bring back blood flow to a blocked artery, between 1991 and 2008 at the Mayo Clinic.

Using medical records and follow-up calls, Dr. Gulati and team looked for instances of death and cause of death in these PCI patients until the end of 2012. Of 19,077 PCI patients, 6,857 deaths with known causes were determined.

The researchers found that as the study progressed, the likelihood of participants dying from a cardiac-related cause five years after their procedure decreased from 9.8 percent of cases early in the study to 6.6 percent later on, and the likelihood of dying from a non-cardiac death increased from 7.1 percent of cases early in the study to 11.2 percent later on.

In looking at the data, the researchers saw a 33 percent decline in cardiac-related deaths five years after the patients' PCI procedures, but a 57 percent increase in deaths not related to the heart.

In the period closest to the study's end (2003 to 2008), only 36.8 percent of the deaths in PCI patients were related to cardiovascular troubles.

Dr. Gulati and team noted that the drop in cardiac deaths seemed to be related to fewer heart attacks, but not to changes in rates of heart failure. The non-cardiovascular deaths were affected by an increase in cancer and other chronic diseases.

In a news release from the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Gulati said that these findings could signal a shift in how cardiac patients are treated.

"These results show that we have an opportunity to focus on the non-cardiac diseases in these patients — to treat the patient holistically,” said Dr. Gulati. “But it also gives us the opportunity to identify and target those patients who are at risk of dying from heart disease.”

It is important to note that this study focused only on PCI patients at one health care center. Further research is needed to confirm the findings.

The study was published February 10 in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation. No conflicts of interest were reported. 

Review Date: 
February 7, 2014
Last Updated:
February 11, 2014