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Heart attacks can be painful.
Many people say the crushing, constricting pain of a heart attack is like an elephant sitting on their chest. Sometimes that pain spreads through the arm and up to the jaw.
Once the heart attack has been treated, the pain generally subsides. But what if pain lingers long after the heart attack has passed?
Don’t ignore post-heart attack pain
Unfortunately, some heart attack sufferers often report feeling moderate to extreme pain about a year after their heart attack. Even though this pain is commonly due to other health conditions and is usually not related to heart disease, it could be cause for serious concern…
“Pain causes significant loss of function and may lead to disability, all of which contribute to major, global public health issues,” says Dr. Linda Vixner, a professor at Dalarna University in Falun, Sweden.
“Research indicates that pain is linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease and overall death; however, the impact of pain on death after a heart attack has not yet been examined in large studies,” Vixner adds.
To rectify that, Vixner and a team of researchers analyzed health data from more than 18,300 adults with an average age of 62 who had a heart attack, from the Swedish quality registry called SWEDEHEART. The data was obtained from a two-month follow-up visit and a participant questionnaire completed one year after their heart attack.
Researchers assessed the data to determine whether the participants had no pain, moderate pain or extreme pain. And their findings were alarming:
- Almost 45 percent of the participants reported moderate or extreme pain one year after their heart attack.
- An estimated 65 percent of participants experiencing pain at their two-month follow-up were still experiencing pain a year after their heart attack.
- During the study period of 8.5 years, heart attack survivors with moderate pain were 35 percent more likely than those with no pain to die from any cause.
- Heart attack survivors who reported extreme pain were more than twice as likely to die during the study period than those who had no pain.
- The ability of pain one year after heart attack to predict death risk was found to be more pronounced than that of smoking.
The survey didn’t specifically ask about the duration of pain experienced by the participants. But since a majority reported having pain both two months and one year after their heart attack, this indicates the pain lasted a long time.
Communicate pain to your doctor
Vixner, an author of the study, says the results show it’s important for doctors to assess and recognize pain after a heart attack as an important risk factor of future death.
Many people don’t tell their doctor they’ve been experiencing pain after a heart attack, particularly if the pain seems unrelated to their heart. But in this case, any pain can be a sign more needs to be done for the patient to ensure their long-term survival.
If you have had a heart attack and are still experiencing pain long after the attack has been treated, you should tell your doctor immediately. And that includes all pain, not just chest pain.
Vixner notes it’s especially important for patients with pain after heart attack to reduce heart risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. If you’re not already taking steps to mitigate these issues, it’s a good idea to start now.
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Experiencing pain after a heart attack may predict long-term survival — American Heart Association
High Self‐Reported Levels of Pain 1 Year After a Myocardial Infarction Are Related to Long‐Term All‐Cause Mortality: A SWEDEHEART Study Including 18 376 Patients — Journal of the American Heart Association