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BHF Cymru announces Welsh research funding into heart attack and stroke

Dr Harry Ahmed. Credit: PRIME Centre Wales

A doctor from Rhondda Cynon Taf is investigating if there’s a link between patients having urinary tract infections (UTIs) and suffering a heart attack or stroke, in new research funded by British Heart Foundation Cymru. Dr Harry Ahmed is a GP and Senior Clinical Lecturer in Epidemiology at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine.  He hopes the study could lead to better outcomes for patients in the future.

Dr Ahmed says, “When a person has an infection, the immune system responds in a way that could affect the circulatory system. These changes may increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Researchers previously found that the risk of heart attack or stroke is significantly higher following a respiratory tract infection, like influenza or pneumonia. This work has led to a clinical trial where people leaving hospital after pneumonia will be given aspirin to see if it protects against heart attack.”

Dr Ahmed is leading a team of researchers at Cardiff University who have been awarded almost £220,000 by the BHF over three years to explore whether a connection can be made between patients who have been diagnosed with UTIs and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.  He adds, “Urine infections are common but can be difficult to diagnose, particularly in elderly people, and can lead to significant illness and hospitalisation.”

Anonymised health information about patients in Wales can be accessed by approved researchers via a databank based at Swansea University called SAIL, which stands for Secure Anonymised Information Linkage. The system is backed by Welsh Government, funded by Health and Care Research Wales, and operates in partnership with NHS Wales’ Digital Health and Care Wales.

Dr Ahmed says, “Researchers will use the excellent data science capabilities of the SAIL Databank in Wales to link data from GP records, hospital admissions, and NHS laboratories, to investigate the link between urine infections and heart attacks or strokes, in more detail than ever before. If a link is found, it will pave the way for further clinical trials of treatments to see if these serious events can be prevented.”

In the 1960s more than 7 out of 10 heart attacks in the UK were fatal.  For more than 60 years the BHF has funded life-saving research into the causes and treatments of heart and circulatory diseases, and today at least 7 out of 10 people who experience a heart attack survive.

Head of BHF Cymru, Adam Fletcher, says, “In Wales as many as 5,000 hospital admissions each year are for heart attacks, that’s 1 every 100 minutes. The public’s generosity has funded BHF research that has turned ideas that once seemed like ‘science fiction’ into treatments and cures that save lives every day. But millions of people are still waiting for the next breakthrough.

“Today in Wales around 340,000 people are living with the daily burden of heart and circulatory diseases. We urgently need the public’s support to keep our life saving research going, and to discover the treatments and cures of the future. It is only with donations from the public that the BHF can keep its life saving research going, helping us turn science fiction into reality.”

Adam adds, “We hope that by funding innovative research like Dr Ahmed’s, we will be able to identify those at risk of heart attack or stroke and prevent these life-threatening conditions before they happen.”

Len Drane, from Treharris, near Merthyr Tydfil, turned 60 on 7th January. He thought he was a fit and healthy, rugby-playing 42-year-old when he had a heart attack while playing golf in 2004.

He was rushed to Caerphilly Miners’ hospital, where he spent five days before being transferred to Cardiff’s University Hospital of Wales to be fitted with a stent to help improve blood supply to his heart. The father of three then began rehabilitation which involved exercises to strengthen his heart.

He says research funded by the BHF helped save his life.  “Anything which improves awareness and knowledge about the causes and treatments of heart attacks has to be a good thing. I am so grateful for the research which meant I got the right treatment after my heart attack, and it’s wonderful to know that research taking place in Wales today could save lives tomorrow.”

Dr Ahmed says, “We are hugely grateful to the BHF for supporting this research, that allows us to capitalise on the substantial data science resources and expertise in Wales, to answer novel questions that could find new triggers of heart attacks or strokes and lead to trials of preventative treatments”.