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Pain after a heart attack may predict likelihood of death within years following, study finds

Experiencing pain a year after having a heart attack is common, but new research says it may also be a clue in predicting a patient's long-term survival.

According to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, people who had moderate or extreme pain were more likely to die within the next 8 years compared with adults who did not have any post-heart attack pain.

"After a heart attack, it's important to assess and recognize pain as an important risk factor of future mortality," said study author Linda Vixner, an associate professor of medical science at the School of Health and Welfare at Dalarna University in Falun, Sweden, in a news release. "In addition, severe pain may be a potential obstacle to rehabilitation and participation in important heart-protective activities such as regular exercise; reduced or lack of physical activity, in turn, increases risk."

Using data from more than 18,000 patients living in Sweden all below age 75, researchers found nearly half of participants reported moderate or extreme pain one year after their heart attack.

Compared to participants who reported no pain, those with moderate pain were 35% more likely to die from any cause during the study period of 8.5 years, whereas those with extreme pain were more than twice as likely to die during the study period.

The analysis also found pain was a stronger mortality predictor than smoking.

About 805,000 people in the United States have a heart attack every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds in the U.S., the organization estimates. 

The authors note the study's findings add "new knowledge for health care personnel involved in cardiac rehabilitation programs," adding pain should be assessed at follow-ups and acknowledged as an "important risk factor."

"Extreme pain experiences should be highlighted as a potential rehabilitation barrier and as an obstacle for engaging in important cardioprotective activities," the authors add.

For patients with pain, it's especially important to reduce other risk factors, Vixner adds in the release, including smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

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