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Chest pain may offset risk of fatal heart attack

Research into chest pain could lead to new ways of reducing the risk of fatal heart attacks, doctors have found.

Angina, the chest pain caused by heart disease, acts as a warning that a heart attack might be on its way. But new studies suggest that molecular changes in heart cells during an episode of angina may help protect the heart should an attack occur.

Cells that have undergone such changes can resist the effects of loss of blood supply, which ultimately causes a heart attack, for much longer.

A paper published yesterday in the medical journal the Lancet, by researchers led by Professor Derek Yellon from University College Hospital in London, reported: "This paradoxical protection is the most powerful and reproducible experimental method of delaying the onset of myocardial infarction [heart attack] yet known."

The researchers conclude that one day it may be possible to induce the protective changes in heart cells with drugs to reduce heart attack, death and disability.