The heart attack survivors were 80 years old, on average. They were followed through 2004, beginning a month after their heart attack.
A total of 12,142 patients died during that time. The study doesn't show their causes of death, though many patients were known to have coronary artery disease, heart failure, diabetes, and other serious conditions.
People who received and filled post-heart attack prescriptions for statins, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, ARBs, or antiplatelet drugs (not including aspirin) were less likely to die during the study.
After considering other factors, the researchers conclude that use of those prescription drugs trimmed mortality rates by 3% per year from 1995 to 2004.
"These data should encourage clinicians to continue use of these proven therapies in the management of elderly patients after myocardial infarction [heart attack]," write the researchers, who included Soko Setoguchi, MD, DrPH, of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
The study has some limits. For instance, Setoguchi's team notes that heart attack survivors who filled their prescriptions may have had other advantages, such as healthy lifestyles, and may not have been typical patients.
But the findings, though "largely circumstantial, are nevertheless compelling and consistent" with other research, states an editorial published with the study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology's April 1 edition.
The editorialists included William Boden, MD, FACC, of the University of Buffalo Schools of Medicine and Public Health.