Younger smokers eight times more likely to have a major heart attack

Heart AttackSmokers under the age of 50 are eight times more likely to suffer a major heart attack than non-smokers at the same age, new research has revealed.

The study, which was led by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with the University of Sheffield, drew upon data from 1727 adults undergoing treatment for a classic type of heart attack, known as ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI), at South Yorkshire’s regional specialist cardiothoracic centre.

A STEMI refers to the typical pattern seen on an electrocardiogram (ECG), indicating that a large proportion of the heart muscle is dying.

Almost half of the 1727 patients in the study (48.5 per cent) were current smokers, with roughly a quarter (just over 27 per cent) former smokers, and a quarter (just over 24 per cent) non-smokers.

Current smokers tended to be 10-11 years younger than ex or non-smokers when they had their STEMI and along with ex-smokers, were twice as likely as non-smokers to have had previous episodes of coronary artery disease.

The research, which was published in the journal Heart, also showed smokers are three times as likely as non-smokers to have peripheral vascular disease, a condition in which a build-up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels restricts blood supply to the legs. Overall young smokers were found to be the most vulnerable of any age group.

Dr Ever Grech, Consultant Cardiologist at Sheffield Teaching NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This important study, carried out at the South Yorkshire Cardiothoracic Centre, is the first time that the increased risk of a major and life-threatening heart attack due to smoking has been quantified.

“All smokers are at much greater risk, but younger smokers are particularly vulnerable and are over eight times more likely to have a major heart attack than their non-smoking peers. An awareness of this strikingly higher risk is an essential public health message and could allow effective targeted intervention.”

Ever GrechThe researchers also used data from the Office for National Statistics Integrated Household Survey (ONS-IHS), for the South Yorkshire region. Among other things, this collects information on smoking prevalence and other aspects of perceived health.

“All current smokers must be encouraged into smoking cessation therapy to reduce their risk of acute STEMI, with a focus on the youngest smokers whose increased risk is often unrecognised,” Dr Grech added.

The researchers found that the much higher risk of STEMI in younger smokers is not easy to explain as this age group typically don’t have many of the other contributory risk factors that might be seen in older smokers, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

Smoking may therefore be the most important risk factor, researchers suggest, adding that other studies show that the fatty deposits furring up the arteries of smokers differ from those of non-smokers and seem to be more vulnerable to rupture.

Dr Amelia Lloyd, lead author of the study from the University of Sheffield, said: “This study will hopefully increase the awareness of the much higher risks to young smokers and will help to change their health beliefs, who may well think that the devastating consequences of smoking are unlikely to affect them.

“This research clearly demonstrates that younger smokers are at very high risk of a major heart attack. Stopping smoking as an early intervention will undoubtedly prevent a large number of major heart attacks which are associated with significant morbidity and premature death.”