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Many Patients Do Not Change Diet After Heart Attack


Most heart attacks are caused by a blockage of one of the coronary arteries either due to a blood clot or a buildup of plaque made of cholesterol and other cells. Because heart disease risk factors include diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol, one would assume the first step a heart patient would take after a cardiac event would be a diet change. Unfortunately, however, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Younger Men More Likely to Continue Eating Fast Food

Avoiding fast food is an obvious choice to make after a heart attack, as it contains ingredients known to contribute to heart disease. Most fast food choices are high in fat (saturated and trans fats), sodium, and cholesterol. Items are also typically high in calories, which contribute to weight gain and obesity.

A recent study conducted at the University of Missouri at Kansas City found that six months after a heart attack, more than half of patients still eat at fast food restaurants at least once a week.

Read: Mediterranean Diet Makes Good Heart Sense

John Spertus, who published the findings in the February issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, and colleagues followed nearly 2,500 heart attack patients across the US who filled out surveys while they were still hospitalized as part of a national study called TRIUMPH, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Thirty-six percent reported that they had eaten fast food “frequently” in the month before their cardiac event, indicating that they ate at the restaurants once a week or more.

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Spertus followed up on the patients six months later, 503 of the 884 patients who frequently ate fast food were still doing so. Younger patients, men, those currently working, and less educated patients were among the groups that were more likely to continue consuming fast food and were more likely to have unhealthy levels of fat in their blood.

Older patients and those who had undergone cardiac bypass surgery were more likely to report avoiding fast food since their heart attack.

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Nine out of ten patients in the study had received dietary counseling before they left the hospital, but this did not seem to affect the odds that frequent fast food eaters would improve their diets, said Spertus. This indicates that “novel interventions that go beyond traditional dietary counseling may be needed.”

One issue that can be addressed is increasing the use of cardiac rehabilitation programs after heart attack. In the initial hospitalization after an event, patients often receive an overwhelming amount of information in a short period of time. Cardiac rehab programs last for several weeks after hospitalization, ensuring repetition of key guidelines for reducing the risk of having another heart attack, including healthy diet changes.

SOURCE: The American Journal of Cardiology, online February 9, 2011.