London - People with diabetes can reduce their risk for heart attacks in half, simply by taking medications designed to prevent them, say researchers.
People with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to have a heart attack or die from heart disease compared to people without diabetes.
"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," said study author Christine Gyldenkerne from Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.
Management of patients with diabetes has changed considerably over the last two decades, with an increased focus on the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
The study, presented at the ‘ESC Congress 2020' conference on Saturday, examined how these changes may have affected the risk of heart attacks and premature death in patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes and no previous cardiovascular disease.
The researchers identified all patients in Denmark initiating therapy for type 2 diabetes from 1996 to 2011 -- a total of 211,278 patients.
Each patient with diabetes was matched on age and sex with five people without diabetes from the general population. Those with previous cardiovascular disease were excluded.
All participants were followed for seven years. Using data from national health registries, the researchers recorded heart attacks and death during follow-up.
They also noted the use of medications to prevent cardiovascular disease at the time of diabetes diagnosis.
The researchers found that patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes and no previous cardiovascular disease experienced major reductions in the risk of heart attack and death.
From 1996 to 2011, the relative risk was reduced by 61 per cent for heart attack and by 41 per cent for death. During the same period, the absolute risks of heart attack and death reduced by 4 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively.
When comparing patients with diabetes to the general population, the initially large differences in risk narrowed over time.
By the end of the study, the risk of heart attack among patients with diabetes was only marginally - 0.6 per cent - higher than in the general population.
The researchers noted that, in addition to the use of preventive medications, other factors may have influenced the likelihood of heart attack and premature death.