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Welsh research could find new triggers of heart attacks and strokes

31 January 2022

A Cardiff University researcher is to lead a project to investigate any links between patients having urinary tract infections (UTIs) and suffering a heart attack or stroke.

Dr Harry Ahmed is a GP from Rhondda Cynon Taf and Senior Clinical Lecturer in Epidemiology at Cardiff University's School of Medicine.

He hopes the study, funded by British Heart Foundation (BHF) Cymru, could lead to better outcomes for patients in the future.

Dr Ahmed said: “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 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.

“Urine infections are common but can be difficult to diagnose, particularly in elderly people, and can lead to significant illness and hospitalisation,” he said.

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 went on: “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.”

Head of BHF Cymru, Adam Fletcher said: “In Wales as many as 5,000 hospital admissions each year are for heart attacks, that's 1 every 100 minutes. 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.”

The BHF has launched a campaign called This is Science, calling for the public’s support to power science that could lead to new treatments and cures for all heart and circulatory diseases.

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