More people die on marathon day


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More people die from heart attacks on marathon race days.

This might not seem surprising, until you find out that it’s not the runners who are dying.

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Previous studies have explored death rates of marathon runners (they’re pretty low – of nearly four million runners in 10 years, 28 people died within 24 hours of their race).

In a new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers explored heightened rates of heart attacks among those living near marathon locations.  

“We have traditionally focused medical preparedness and emergency care availability to address the needs of race runners, but our study suggests that effects of a marathon may spread well beyond the course of the event and affect those who live or happen to be nearby,” said the study’s senior author, Anupam Jena, of Harvard Medical School.

After analysing 10 years worth of records, looking at death rates among people 65 years and older who had suffered heart attacks, the researchers found that those admitted to hospital on race day were 15 per cent more likely to die within 30 days if they lived near the marathon, compared with those admitted on a different day or those who lived far away.

Why? The road closures, the researchers suggest.

Traffic is the biggest cause of daily stress for many people and traffic, due to road closures on marathon days, is generally heavier.

Stress, while not a direct risk factor for cardiovascular disease, may contribute to your risk level and subsequently, your risk of heart attack.

But, this was not the reason Jena and her colleagues believed there was an increase.

By ambulance, it took about four minutes longer to reach the hospital on marathon days. It was even longer – about 30 to 40 minutes – for those who chose to drive themselves.

With a heart attack, every minute counts, advises the Heart Foundation.

“Getting to hospital quickly can reduce the damage to your heart muscle and increase your chance of survival,” it  says.

According to the Harvard study, of every 100 people who have a heart attack four more deaths could be prevented.

Jenna stressed that the added time getting to hospital is only a theory and applies not only to marathons but to other large events that cause road closures.

“Marathons and other large, popular civic events are an important part of the fabric of life in our big cities and they bring people a lot of pride and joy,” Jena said. “But the organisers of these events need to take these risks to heart when they are planning their events, and find better ways to make sure that the race’s neighbours are able to receive the lifesaving care that they need quickly.”

She added: “When cities host big marathons, or when people participate in races, they don’t think that there might be a chance that a person not taking part in the race could die because of the event,” Jena said. “These findings don’t mean we shouldn’t have large public events, but hopefully our research will shine some light on the problem and suggest ways that planners can better provide for the health and safety of the people who live nearby.”

And the bottom line for anyone experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack: don’t wait around, don’t drive yourself to hospital if there is traffic, call an ambulance.

Heart attack signs and stats from the Heart Foundation 

No two heart attacks are the same. 

  • Someone who has already had a heart attack may have different symptoms the second time.

Warning signs differ from person to person.

  • Heart attacks are not always sudden or severe. Many start slowly with only mild pain or discomfort. Some people do not get any chest pain at all – only discomfort in other parts of their upper body.
  • Discomfort or pain in the centre of your chest – this can often feel like a heaviness, tightness or pressure. People who have had a heart attack have commonly described it as like “an elephant sitting on my chest”, “a belt that’s been tightened around my chest”, or “bad indigestion”. The discomfort may spread to different parts of your upper body.
  • Discomfort in these parts of your upper body: arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, back or feeling “not quite right”.
  • You may have a choking feeling in your throat. Your arms may feel heavy or useless.
  • Symptoms can come on suddenly or develop over minutes and get progressively worse. Symptoms usually last for at least 10 minutes.

You may also experience other signs and symptoms:

  • feel short of breath.
  • feel nauseous.
  • have a cold sweat.
  • feel dizzy or light-headed.

It is estimated 350,000 Australians have had a heart attack at some time in their lives. More than 100,000 Australians who have had a heart attack are under the age of 65. Heart attacks claim the lives of about 23 Australians each day.

Too many people lose their lives because they wait too long to call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

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