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"Diagnosing diabetes in patients who have had a heart attack is important because of the role diabetes plays in heart disease," lead author Dr. Suzanne Arnold, assistant professor at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute and the University of Missouri at Kansas City, said in an American Heart Association (AHA) news release.
"By recognizing and treating diabetes early, we may be able to prevent additional cardiovascular complications through diet, weight loss and lifestyle changes, in addition to taking medications. Another important reason to diagnose diabetes at the time of heart attack is that it can guide the treatments for the patient's coronary artery disease," she explained.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 2,800 heart attack patients who had not been diagnosed with diabetes. The patients were treated in 24 hospitals across the United States.
The investigators found that 10 percent of the patients were newly diagnosed with diabetes while being treated for their heart attack. However, less than one-third of those patients received diabetes education material or medications when they were discharged from the hospital.
Doctors failed to recognize diabetes in 69 percent of the previously undiagnosed patients, according to the study. Doctors were more than 17 times more likely to recognize patients' diabetes if they checked patients' A1C test results during the heart attack, and were even more likely to do so the higher the test levels.
Checking A1C levels is a standard test to determine a patient's blood sugar levels over the previous two to three months.
Six months after leaving the hospital, less than 7 percent of the patients who weren't recognized as having diabetes during their heart attack-related hospital stay had started taking medication for diabetes. For those whose diabetes was identified during their hospital stay, 71 percent had started diabetes medication.
The study was presented Tuesday at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Baltimore. The AHA noted that two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease.
Findings presented at meetings are generally considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, June 3, 2014