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2 Key Tests After a Heart Attack

Tests May Predict Death, Cardiac Arrest in Heart Attack Survivors
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 3, 2007 -- Canadian scientists today reported that two tests may help predict heart-related death or cardiac arrest after a heart attack.

The tests don't require surgery or other invasive methods. Instead, the patient simply gets a special EKG (electrocardiogram).

One test checks the heart's nervous system. The other test checks the heart's electrical system.

Combining the results of both tests, given 10-14 weeks after a heart attack, was the study's best predictor of heart-related death or cardiac arrest requiring resuscitation.

The study included 322 Canadian heart attack survivors who were in their early 60s, on average. Their hearts showed a weakened ability to pump blood.

The patients took both tests twice. They were first tested two to four weeks after their heart attack. They were retested 10 to 14 weeks after their heart attack.

One of the EKG tests took about half an hour. The other test took all day, but patients didn't have to spend that time in the doctor's office; the EKG kept tabs on them for 18-24 hours.

The patients were followed for nearly four years. During that time, 30 patients died (including 22 who died of heart problems). Seven others had to be resuscitated when their hearts stopped (cardiac arrest).

Those patients tended to have poor scores on both tests 10-14 weeks after their heart attack.

At that point, one out of five patients had abnormal scores on both tests, with hearts that were still weak. Compared to other patients, they were six times more likely to suffer a heart-related death or a cardiac arrest during the study.

The researchers -- who included Dexter Exner, MD, MPH, of Canada's University of Calgary -- report their findings in the Dec. 11 edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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