Researchers from the University of Leeds in the UK have identified the nine essential steps each heart attack survivor should take after being discharged from the hospital. They are: “pre-hospital electrocardiogram, acute use of aspirin, restoring blood flow to the heart (known as reperfusion), prescription at hospital discharge of aspirin, timely use of four types of drugs for heart attack (ACE-inhibitors, beta-blockers, angiotensin receptor blockers and statins), and referral for cardiac rehabilitation after discharge from hospital.” And as found in their recent study, neglecting just one of these steps severely decreases a survivor’s chance of continued, well, survival.

The study evaluated the data collected from 31,000 heart attack patients discharged from a hospital in England and Wales between January 2007 and December 2010 — one of the largest registries that exists today. And researchers found heart attack survivors guilty of a single care lapse had a 46 percent increased chance of dying within a month, in addition to also having a 74 percent chance of dying within a year. “The key message is that someone’s recovery from a heart attack is not solely dependent on any single element of the care pathway,” Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said in a press release. “This research shows the importance of ensuring all elements of care for heart attack patients are optimally delivered.”

One reason for this is that one care lapse makes it easy to miss another, and another, and you get where we're going with this. But even worse than that, researchers found hospitals with a low volume of heart attack patients and fewer specialist cardio beds missed 11 percent more care opportunities compared to other hospitals. The latter is why resources such as Healthgrades and ZocDoc work as hard as they do to educate patients on health care. More often than not, the best doctors and hospitals are both located outside their neighborhood and insurance network.

Patients who can afford quality health care, as found by prior research, need to also take some responsibility for their health if they're ever going to gain back that control; it can’t be one or the other. As reported by the American Heart Association, tens of thousands of Americans can, and do, go back to their normal life after surviving a heart attack. That is, if they exercise proper care.

According to the AHA, chest discomfort, pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach, as well as shortness of breath are all warning signs of heart attack. Though men and women experience heart attack differently, knowing these will prompt you to seek help in time. And, the AHA said, even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, have it checked out anyway. Fast action saves lives.

Source: Gale C, et al. Mortality and missed opportunities along the pathway of care for ST-elevation myocardial infarction: a national cohort study. European Heart Journal Acute Cardiovascular Care. 2014.