SOURCE: European Society of Cardiology, news release, July 19, 2016
WEDNESDAY, July 20, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- While there are many obvious benefits to achieving a higher level of education, one you may not have considered is a boost to your heart health.
New research suggests that heart attack survivors with higher levels of education appear less likely to develop heart failure.
Heart failure is a serious complication of heart attack that significantly increases the risk of death, study author Gerhard Sulo said in a European Society of Cardiology news release. Sulo is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bergen in Norway.
The study included more than 70,500 people in Norway, aged 35 to 85. All had been hospitalized with a first heart attack between 2001 and 2009. None had a history of heart failure at the start of the study.
By the end of 2009, 18 percent of patients had been diagnosed with early onset heart failure, the findings showed. Compared to those with only 10 years of schooling, the risk of heart failure was 9 percent lower among those with high school or vocational school diplomas. For those who'd completed college or university, the risk of developing heart failure was 20 percent lower.
Another 12 percent of patients were diagnosed with late-onset heart failure, the researchers said. Compared to those with 10 years of schooling, the risk was 14 percent lower among those with high school or vocational school diplomas. And for those who completed university or college, the risk of late-onset heart failure was 27 percent lower.
When the researchers focused on patients who underwent procedures to clear blocked arteries after their heart attack, the risk of heart failure was 16 percent lower among those with high school or vocational school diplomas, and 33 percent lower among those who'd completed college or university, compared to those with only 10 years of schooling.
The link between higher levels of education and lower risk of heart failure was similar in men and women, the study found.
Although the researchers found an association between education and heart health after a heart attack, the study wasn't designed to tease out a cause-and-effect relationship. Still, the researchers do have some theories as to why people with more education seemed to fare better.
"Education, per se, cannot be considered a 'protective exposure' in the classical sense, but represents a clustering of characteristics that influence health behaviors and outcomes," Sulo said.
For example, people with less education tend to delay getting medical care when heart attack symptoms occur. In addition, they may have less access to specialized care. Both of these factors can increase the risk of developing early onset heart failure after a heart attack, he explained.
Sulo also noted that people with less education are more likely to have pre-existing medical conditions and unhealthy lifestyles that can increase the risk of heart failure, which is the heart's inability to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs.
"Patients with lower education are less likely to be prescribed medication after a heart attack to prevent heart failure, and they are also less likely to take their medication. This may explain the increased risk of late-onset heart failure," he added.
"Focused efforts are needed to ensure that heart attack patients with low education get help early, have equal access to treatment, take their medications, and are encouraged to improve their lifestyles. This should help reduce the socioeconomic gap in the risk of heart failure following a heart attack," Sulo concluded.
The study was published July 20 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about heart failure.