RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Smoking is a significant risk factor for heart disease.
Based on data from a new study, researchers estimated the increased risk of a heart attack in the under-50 population to be about eight times greater for smokers than non-smokers, while it is about five times greater for smokers aged 50 to 65, and three times greater for those over 65.
- What is coronary artery disease and what causes a heart attack?
Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease. It occurs when fatty plaques build up in the arteries that supply blood and nutrients to your heart muscle. When these arteries become obstructed or blocked so that blood flow is compromised, a heart attack can occur. When a heart attack occurs, the heart muscle cells no longer receive oxygen and other nutrients and these cells die. When these muscle cells die, the heart muscle cannot pump blood effectively and in some cases—unless blood flow is quickly restored—the patient will die.
- What role does smoking play in the development of heart disease?
The CDC estimates that one in three deaths from heart disease is due to smoking. Smoking damages blood vessels and makes it more likely that fatty plaques will form. In addition, smoking damages lung tissue and can significantly increase the work load of the heart.
- What did this new study show us and why are the findings so significant?
Overall, the study revealed that current smokers had a likelihood of developing myocardial infarction (STEMI) three times higher than ex-and nonsmokers combined.
Along with ex-smokers, current smokers were twice as likely to have also had coronary artery disease.
Current smokers were likely to be 10-11 years younger than former or nonsmokers when they had their heart attack. The highest risk was found among smokers under 50 years of age, who were almost 8.5 times more likely to have a STEMI heart attack than nonsmokers and ex-smokers combined.
However, given that this is an observational study, it cannot explain the reasons why the risk is so much higher in younger adults. Since younger smokers do not have many of the other risk factors for heart attack, such as high cholesterol, increased blood pressure, or diabetes, the results are all the more difficult to explain.
Authors speculate, however, that smoking may be the most important risk factor, as other cited research shows cigarette smokers are more vulnerable to heart attacks.
- What can our viewers do to reduce their risk for heart attack?
Remember the risk factors:
- Male sex
- Family History of heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
If you are a smoker – stop now. There are other risk factors that you cannot change such as family history and male sex but you can modify others. In addition, diet and exercise—living a heart healthy lifestyle is critical to success.