Up to one in six people in England have died from a heart attack in hospitals in England after doctors missed vital early signs of the condition, according to new findings.
This new study from Imperial College London analysed hospital records between 2006 and 2010, finding that 135,950 deaths occurred from heart attacks, with 16 per cent dying within four weeks of admittance to hospital.
The findings are pertinent to people with diabetes, who have a much greater risk of heart disease and heart attack than people without diabetes.
The researchers also looked at whether the records of the deceased patient had shown whether there were signs of the heart attack prior to admission.
The data suggested many people had complained of fainting, shortness of breath or chest pain, prior to their death, but doctors did not recognise those symptoms as indicating a heart attack was imminent.
People whose heart attack was recorded as being a secondary health issue on hospital admittance were two to three times more likely to die than those whose records showed their death was directly related to a heart attack.
Lead author Dr Perviz Asaria, from the School of Public Health at Imperial, said: “Doctors are very good at treating heart attacks when they are the main cause of admissio, but we don’t do very well treating secondary heart attacks or at picking up subtle signs which might point to a heart attack death in the near future.
“Unfortunately in the four weeks following a hospital stay, nearly as many heart attack deaths occur in people for whom heart attack is not recorded as a primary cause, as occur after an admission for heart attack.”
The British Heart Foundation told the BBC the study’s findings were “concerning”.
Co-author Professor Majid Ezzati, from the School of Public Health at Imperial, said it is not clear why early heart attack signs are being missed, but more work needs to be done.
“This might include updated guidance for healthcare professionals, changes in clinical culture, or allowing doctors more time to examine patients and look at their previous records,” said Ezzati.
“What we are now asking is, if symptoms are being missed where they could have been discovered using the available information, how should care now be organised and what changes need to be made to prevent unnecessary deaths.”
The findings appear online in The Lancet.

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