Heart attack deaths increase during winter holidays

NEW ORLEANS -- Duke University Medical Center researchers have now demonstrated what many have long suspected -- heart attack patients admitted to U.S. hospitals during the winter holidays have higher mortality rates than those admitted during the rest of the year.

The researchers also found that during these holiday hospitalizations, patients were less likely to receive drugs and/or procedures that have been proven effective in large clinical trials to save the lives of heart patients.

While there are likely many factors involved in these trends during the holidays, the researchers believe that the U.S. health-care system is not truly organized to operate around-the-clock for 365 days a year.

"The decrease we found in proven treatments and the increased mortality suggests that critical services for life-threatening illnesses such as heart attack need to be maintained at full levels during holiday seasons," Duke cardiologist Trip Meine, M.D., said. "The health-care system needs to run 24-7, and it cannot take a vacation. That includes not just the physicians, but all the other members of the health-care team, as well as hospital and support employees."

Meine presented the results of the Duke analysis March 8, 2004, at the annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology.

The Duke team studied the records of 134,609 heart attack patients maintained by the Cooperative Cardiovascular Project, a database of patients admitted to U.S. hospitals from 1994 to 1996. They compared the treatments and outcomes of those patients admitted during the last two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January to those admitted during the other 48 weeks.

Specifically, patients admitted to the hospital during the holiday weeks were less likely to be prescribed aspirin at admission (77.2 percent vs. 78.2 percent), as well as beta blockers both at admission (43.3 percent vs. 44.8 percent) and at discharge (28.7 percent

Contact: Richard Merritt
Duke University Medical Center

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