The study analysed heart disease risk factors among more than 3,900 patients who were treated for ST-elevation myocardial infarction, or ST segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI) - the most severe and deadly type of heart attack - at Cleveland Clinic in the US between 1995 and 2014.

"On the whole, the medical community has done an outstanding job of improving treatments for heart disease, but this study shows that we have to do better on the prevention side," said Samir Kapadia from Cleveland Clinic and primary investigator of the study.

A STEMI heart attack results when one of the heart's main arteries becomes completely blocked by plaque, stopping the flow of blood. Immediate medical attention can increase the chances of survival, but STEMI carries a high risk of death and disability.

Many factors are known to increase a person's heart attack risk. While some, such as age and family history, are beyond the individual's control, many risk factors can be reduced through lifestyle choices, such as exercising more, quitting smoking and adopting a heart-healthy diet, researchers said.

They divided the records of Cleveland Clinic's STEMI patients from 1995 to 2014 into four quartiles, each representing a span of five years.

Analysing the baseline risk factors and health conditions of patients in each grouping, they found the average age of STEMI patients decreased from 64 to 60, and the prevalence of obesity increased from 31 to 40 percent between the first five-year span and the last five-year span.

The proportion of patients with diabetes increased from 24 to 31 percent, the proportion with high blood pressure grew from 55 to 77 per cent, and the proportion with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease rose from 5 to 12 percent over the same period. All changes were statistically significant, researchers said.

One of the most striking findings was the change in smoking rates, which increased from 28 to 46 per cent – a finding counter to national trends, which reflect an overall decline in smoking rates over the past 20 years, they said.

The study also found a significant increase in the proportion of patients who have three or more major risk factors, which grew from 65 to 85 percent.

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