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Heart Risks Last Beyond Hospital Discharge, Study Finds

THURSDAY, May 16 (HealthDay News) -- Patients with heart failure or a heart attack appear to be at high risk of death or readmission to the hospital for at least one month after being discharged, researchers say.

And the period of increased risk for these patients may be even longer after they leave the hospital. The study authors suggested that patients should continue to be careful about their health once they are home and seek immediate medical attention if they develop symptoms or feel sick.

"The risks of death and rehospitalization can extend well beyond 30 days after discharge, the time period used by the federal government for measuring hospital performance," study lead author Dr. Kumar Dharmarajan, a fellow in cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said in a news release from the American Heart Association.

"Post-discharge care may be improved when aligned to the periods of greatest risk for patients," added Dharmarajan, who is also a visiting scholar at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

In conducting the study, the researchers analyzed Medicare data on nearly 879,000 heart failure patients and more than 350,000 people who had a heart attack. Within one year, about 42 percent of those with heart failure died and 70 percent were readmitted to the hospital. The study authors noted that readmission to the hospital after heart failure took 43 days before it declined from its peak level to 50 percent.

Meanwhile, in the first year, just under 26 percent of heart attack patients died and half were readmitted to the hospital. Dharmarajan's team reported that patients' likelihood of death a month after having a heart attack is 21 times higher and the chances of ending up back in the hospital is 12 times higher than the general Medicare-age population (over age 65).

Similarly, in the 30 days after being discharged from the hospital, heart failure patients' likelihood of death is 17 times higher, and their chances of readmission are 16 times higher than the general Medicare-age population.

"In the weeks after hospital discharge, your risk of death, rehospitalization and other complications is very high," Dharmarajan cautioned. "If you feel ill, take it seriously and contact your health care provider."

The study findings were scheduled for presentation Thursday at the American Heart Association meeting in Baltimore. The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides facts and statistics on heart disease.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, May 16, 2013

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