Aug. 28 (UPI) -- People with diabetes can cut their risk for heart attacks in half, simply by taking medications designed to prevent them, an analysis presented Saturday during the European Society of Cardiology virtual congress found.
Those with Type 2 diabetes and no prior history of heart disease were able to reduce their risk for heart attacks by 61% and death from heart-related causes by 41%, the data showed.
Historically, having Type 2 diabetes doubled a person's likelihood for having a heart attack compared to those without the disease, but risk reductions seen in this analysis likely coincide with increased focus on heart health in recent years, the researchers said.
Over the past 20 years, use of cholesterol-lowering medications among diabetes patients increased more than 10-fold, while aspirin use increased by 50% and use of blood pressure-lowering medications rose by up to four times, according to the researchers.
All of these medications have been shown to reduce heart attack risk, they said.
"Our results suggest that when patients are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, starting medications to prevent cardiovascular disease has a substantial impact on the risk of heart attacks and premature death," co-author Dr. Christine Gyldenkerne, a cardiologist at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, said in a statement.
Roughly 30 million Americans are living with Type 2 diabetes, and about 15% of them have heart disease, as well, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As a result, management of patients with Type 2 diabetes has changed over the past two decades, with increased focus on prevention of heart disease, Gyldenkerne and her colleagues said.
For this study, the researchers analyzed data on more than 211,000 people in Denmark who started therapy for Type 2 diabetes between 1996 and 2011. Researchers matched each patient with diabetes by age and sex to five people without the disease, excluding those with heart disease.
All participants were followed for seven years.
By the end of the study, the risk of heart attack among patients with diabetes was 0.6% higher than in the general population -- a significantly lower gap than had been observed in the past, the researchers said.
"In addition to the use of preventive medications, other factors may have influenced the likelihood of heart attack and premature death," Gyldenkerne said.
"For example, stricter control of diabetes and lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, physical activity and healthier food may have contributed to the improved prognosis."