How Long Is A Person Expected To Live After A Heart Attack?

Question: How long is a person expected to live after a heart attack?

Answer: That is a question that patients and their families ask all the time. And I guess the most honest answer is, nobody can know for sure, and your doctor can't really predict that sort of thing. It's certainly people that have really big heart attacks, that is going to have an impact on their ultimate life span, whereas patients that have really small heart attacks where it might be picked up on a blood test but they haven't sustained damage that's visible, say, on an ultrasound of the heart, well there, I suppose, in some statistical sense it reduces their life span, but probably the impact is much less.

So it really depends on how big the heart attack is, and how quickly the treatment is delivered, and then how effective the treatment is. So if somebody starts having really bad chest pain, calls 911, they're in their emergency department right away, up into a catheterization lab within an hour and the artery is open, the likelihood of any serious permanent damage is minimized. And probably the impact of that heart attack won't be as great as if somebody was toughing it out at home with their chest pain lasts 6 hours, they come in, you know, 12 hours after the heart attack started; there the horse is out of the barn; no matter what we do in terms of opening up the arteries with procedures or medications. Probably a good chunk of heart muscle will be lost and there's no question that will take years off somebody's life.

So it really depends in part on how big the heart attack is, how quickly the therapy is delivered, and then ultimately how much effect the therapy has. I think the important message is really -- that should be learned from the question you've asked is: one, if you're having chest pain and it doesn't seem like it's just a little bit of gas and it seems like it's something that's concerning, call 911 because early treatment really makes a huge impact here. And second of all, if you have had a heart attack, don't be discouraged and demoralized; it's not like 20 or 30 years ago when a heart attack was definitely a death sentence. We've got a lot of good treatments, lots of good medications and procedures now, so it's even if you have had a heart attack, these different medications and procedures can hopefully minimize the impact that'll have on your ultimate lifespan.

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