Sudden death of Dean Mercer highlights disturbing heart attack figures

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The shocking news of the death of 47 year-old former Aussie Ironman Dean Mercer from a cardiac arrest has gripped the news headlines this week.

The father-of-four’s death from a cardiac arrest while behind the wheel has highlighted some frightening figures regarding coronary disease and heart attacks in people who have none of the classic symptoms considered to be risk factors for the condition.

The death of Mercer, a former Australian Ironman and a "household name" in the era of the sport during its televised glory days in the late '80s and '90s, had retired from racing but still remained heavily involved in surf lifesaving, coaching the Nippers at the Gold Coast's Kurrawa club, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

ABC coverage revealed that Australian experts have found a big increase in patients having heart attacks but who have no obvious risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, being obese or smoking.

Heart Research Australia's Professor Gemma Figtree and her team reviewed almost 700 heart attack patients at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital from 2006 to 2014.

They found the rate of otherwise healthy patients having heart attacks went up from 11 per cent to a surprising 27 per cent of patients over eight years.

"As interventional cardiologists we all remember the fit, young patient that comes through the door and looks up at you and says 'Why me?'" Professor Figtree told ABC.

"It really triggered us to try and look at how often this was happening in patients who don't have traditional, modifiable risk factors."

Doctors found the surprise heart attacks occurred across all age groups, and were just as dangerous and deadly as those in people with risk factors.

Researchers said they were not sure what caused patients with no risk factors to develop plaque in their arteries, or atherosclerosis.

"We're actually doing a big study at the moment, thanks to the support of Heart Research Australia, where patients are consenting to give some blood, and we're trying to understand, particularly in this population who don't have traditional risk factors, what might be driving their atherosclerosis and heart attacks," Professor Figtree said.

She said there was a misperception that coronary disease only happened in older men who have smoked or lived an unhealthy lifestyle, ABC reported.

"Young, fit, women and men develop life-threatening plaque in their heart arteries.

"Our goal is to really identify this at a much earlier stage and to target specific treatments to minimise the progression of disease before it causes heart attacks."

Cardiologist Dr Ravinay Bhindi from Royal North Shore Hospital said the findings showed how important it was to know the symptoms of a heart attack.

"Everyone needs to be aware of what heart attack symptoms are because even though there may be nothing we can treat, at least if you know you are having symptoms of a heart attack, you can get to hospital and be treated," he told ABC.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Tightness or heaviness in your chest that becomes severe
  • Pain in the shoulders and/or arms
  • Jaw and neck pain
  • Sudden difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • If you or someone you know is experiencing heart attack symptoms, call triple-0 immediately

Source: Heart Research Australia

Click here for the ABC’s full report

Click here for the SMH’s coverage of Dean Mercer

Image source: Sydney Morning Herald Dean Mercer

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