Up to half of Irish heart attack survivors ‘fail to change habits’

Study finds 43% of smokers were still smoking two years after heart attack

A significant minority of heart attack survivors to not change their habits, a new study has found. Photograph: iStock

A significant minority of heart attack survivors to not change their habits, a new study has found. Photograph: iStock


Up to half of all Irish heart attack survivors are failing to make the changes needed to prolong their lives, according to a nationwide study that shows ingrained habits are hard to change.

While some try to change these habits, many are not succeeding in minimising the risk factors that contributed to the heart attack in the first place, the research shows.

A significant minority of heart attack survivors continue to smoke, remain obese and rarely exercise, according to the survey findings published on Friday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The authors say a standardised national cardiovascular prevention programme would be one solution to the generally poor control of risk factors seen among Irish heart attack survivors.

“This research shows that in certain aspects our health system is making a positive difference to the lives of patients who have recently survived a heart attack,” says Bill McEvoy, professor of preventive cardiology at NUI Galway.  

“However, many patients are still struggling with blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, exercise and smoking cessation issues.”

Under the iAspire study, 721 patients with a recent heart attack were interviewed across nine centres in over the past year.

It was found 43 per cent who had smoked at the time of their heart attack were still smoking 24 months later, while 39 per cent were still obese.

One-third said they never or rarely take regular activity long enough to work up a sweat, and 40 per cent still had raised blood pressure.

Most failed to reach goals for lowering cholesterol and, among diabetics, reducing blood sugar levels. Almost half didn’t get the flu vaccine.

Of those who were obese, one-third said they had never been told by a health professional they were overweight.

Almost all (97 per cent) heart attack survivors had received surgical intervention to bypass or open up coronary arteries, which was taken as an indication of good acute care.

The survey group is 80 per cent male, with an average age of 63 years.

“Survival of a heart attack is a second chance at life, but only if risk factors are managed. While we’re seeing better lifestyle habits in some patients, a considerable proportion are still not making the changes required to prolong their lives. The health system needs to do more to standardise care for these patients,” said Prof McEvoy.