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Healing After a Heart Attack
By Dr. Jen Morganti, NEEDS Education Director

About 735,000 Americans suffer a heart attack annually, equal to about 1 every 43 seconds. About onethird of those heart attacks are not the first incident. Surviving and recovering from a heart attack (myocardial infarction or "MI") is a major relief, but it's not the end of the story. A heart attack can cause damage to the heart and if it doesn't heal properly, there is risk of progressing to heart failure.

The structure and function of the heart ventricles, the two lower chambers of the heart that collect and pump out circulating blood, can be damaged from a MI. Standard pharmaceutical medications do not offer options to improve ventricle healing.

A recent study explored the possibility of fish oil being used to help the heart heal. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, MI patients took either 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids or 4 grams of corn oil as placebo. This study lasted 6 months. At the beginning and end of the study, scientists tested the patient's "left ventricular end-systolic volume", which basically means the amount of blood left in the ventricle after pumping it out. A strong, healthy heart will pump out all of the blood, but residual blood in the chamber is the sign of a weaker heart.

At the end of the 6 month study, the people taking omega-3 fatty acids had a significant improvement in their heart ventricle performance as compared to those taking the placebo. The fish oil group also had a significant increase in omega-3 fatty acids in their blood. The researchers also noted a trend that suggested that those with the highest levels of omega-3 had the best rate of improvement in ventricle function.

Previous studies have confirmed that fish oil can be helpful for preventing cardiovascular disease in patients who have it or are at risk, but this is the first study to look specifically at how omega-3 fats can heal the heart tissue after a MI. A longer term study with ongoing fish oil supplementation would be helpful to determine if the healing prevents progression to heart failure.

Effect of Omega-3 Acid Ethyl Esters on Left Ventricular Remodeling After Acute Myocardial Infarction, Bobak Heydari, et. al. Circulation. 2016; 134:378-391, published online before print August 1, 2016.

Artham SM, Lavie CJ, Milani RV, Anand RG, O'Keefe JH, Ventura HO. Fish Oil in Primary and Secondary Cardiovascular Prevention. The Ochsner Journal. 2008; 8(2):49-60.

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