Your first heartbreak can have a way of coming back to haunt you. And the same could be true for heart attacks, suggests new preliminary research presented this week at the 3rd World Congress on Acute Heart Failure, sponsored by the European Society of Cardiology.

The English and Dutch researchers behind the study analyzed medical records from an electronic database of United Kingdom patients maintained by the University College London. That allowed them to track nearly 25,000 adult patients who had suffered their first heart attack from 1998 to 2010 with no prior history of heart failure and to follow their eventual fate. During a median follow-up period of about four years, nearly 25 percent of these patients went on to suffer heart failure; 10 percent had their hearts fail within the first 30 days.

"Heart failure is a major medical problem with a high chance of hospitalisation and death," said lead author Dr. Johannes Gho, a cardiologist at the Netherlands’ University Medical Center Utrecht, in a statement. "Patients with ischaemic heart disease are at the highest risk. This includes those who have had a myocardial infarction, also called heart attack."

Within the already vulnerable population of heart attack patients there were other factors that increased people’s risk of heart failure. Having an irregular heart beat at the same time correlated with a 63 percent increased risk; diabetes was associated with a 44 percent increased risk; and having plaque-clogged arteries in the limbs, a condition called peripheral arterial disease, was linked with a 38 percent increased risk. Other risk factors included poor socioeconomic status, older age, and hypertension.

"Previous research looking at all-cause heart failure, not only after myocardial infarction, has found similar risk factors,” said Gho. “Our large cohort study confirms that these are also risky conditions for heart attack patients in the current era."

Strangely enough, people who had their heart attacks from 1998 to 2001 were less likely to develop heart failure than those in later years, but the rates of heart failure otherwise remained relatively stable. Gho explained that these slight shifts in mortality might be explained by two counteracting patterns in modern heart medicine: People are better treated for their heart attacks so the risk of heart failure subsequently drops, but they’re also more likely to survive more damaging attacks than they would have in the past, which then ups their risk of later heart failure once again.

Considering their study a timely update to much earlier research looking at heart failure rates following heart attack, Gho and his team hopes their findings can point the way to better personalized care for those who especially need it. "Identifying these prognostic factors in heart attack patients could help us predict their risk of developing heart failure and allow us to give treatments to reduce that risk," he said.

Source: Gho J, Schmidt AF, Koudstaal S, et al. Heart failure following myocardial infarction: a cohort study of incidence and prognostic factors in 24 745 patients using linked electronic records. 3rd World Congress on Acute Heart Failure. 2016.