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A simple proposal for reducing the harm of heart attacks

A heart attack, or acute myocardial infarction, is a condition where blood flow to the heart muscle is interrupted or insufficient. The onset can sometimes occur precipitously from a sudden increase in physical activity or significant stress. Medical treatment incorporates a number of different therapeutic measures which primarily focus on equilibrating the energy requirement and supply to the heart muscle. The sooner this is done the more heart muscle can be saved.

In 2010, an interesting paper published in the Lancet discussed how the simple use of blood pressure cuffs (on the arm) can be used to "precondition" patients prior to arriving to the hospital — a technique that was shown to decrease damage of heart muscle by up to 50 percent in the study's patient population. Preconditioning using the blood pressure cuff is done by inflating the cuff for five minutes, resulting in a cutoff of blood flow below that point, and then deflating for five minutes to reestablish circulation.

The underlying mechanism that yields a protective benefit from preconditioning remains relatively unknown. It is currently thought that a substance produced during times of blood starvation, as occurs in the arm by inflating the blood pressure cuff, is systemically preparing the body for possible reduction of blood supply.

The wider application of this method remains limited for a number of reasons, including the fact that only a couple of studies have been done thus far. Also, as a correspondence cautioned in a later issue of the Lancet, there were a large number of patients who were excluded from the trial as well as a number of patients who were lost on follow up. Therefore, it is exciting to see if further research will show similar results, as the possible benefits could be tremendous. However current data is not yet conclusive.

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