The longer a high-risk heart attack patient has to wait between first contact with a medic and hospital treatment, the less chance there is of survival, new research suggests.
Every minute counts when it comes to treatment, heart experts said, following a study of more than 12,000 patients over a 10-year period.
Patients who have had part of their heart muscle die due to lack of blood supply, who then have a cardiogenic shock - when the heart suddenly cannot pump enough blood - are more likely to survive if they get balloon insertion treatment quickly, scientists said.
In this group of ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (Stemi) patients, there were three more deaths for every 10-minute delay in getting percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) – where a balloon catheter is used to widen blocked arteries and restore blood flow to the heart.
The study, published in the European Heart Journal, looked at 12,675 Stemi patients who were taken to hospital by the emergency services and treated with PCI in Germany between 2006 and 2015.
Researchers said previous studies had mostly been focused on the time between a patient arriving at hospital and getting treatment, rather than from their first contact with a medical professional.
Professor Karl Heinrich Scholz, head of the Department of Cardiology at St Bernward Hospital at Hildesheim in Germany, said speedier treatment could improve the end results for patients.
He said: “The most important finding of our study is that Stemi patients presenting with cardiogenic shock are more likely to survive if they receive rapid percutaneous coronary intervention.
“In this high-risk patient group, every 10-minute treatment delay was accompanied by 3.3 additional deaths, and this treatment delay-related increase in mortality was 10-fold higher as compared to Stemi patients presenting with more stable conditions.
“This means that, especially in shock patients and in patients with cardiac arrest, maximum efforts are necessary to optimise processes of care to shorten the time to treatment and improve their outcome.”
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, called on health systems to review how patients are treated to ensure it happens quickly.
He said: “This new study clearly shows that every minute counts when it comes to treating heart attack patients.
“The quicker we can diagnose people and offer them interventions like PCI, the more lives that we will save. This is particularly true for those who are more seriously ill. It is absolutely vital that health systems review how heart attack patients are diagnosed and treated, to ensure this happens in the shortest possible time.”