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

Smokers 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.

Dr Grech at the South Yorkshire Cardiothoracic Centre, Northern General HospitalCurrent 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.”

The 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.”

Additional information

The University of Sheffield
With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2016 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trusts
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals is one of the UK’s largest NHS Foundation Trusts and one of the largest and busiest teaching hospitals. It has over 16,000 staff caring for over a million patients each year at our five hospitals and in the local community:

  • The Royal Hallamshire Hospital
  • The Northern General Hospital
  • Charles Clifford Dental Hospital
  • Weston Park Cancer Hospital
  • Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals offer a full range of local hospital and community health services for people in Sheffield as well as specialist hospital services to patients from further afield in our many specialist centres. The Trust is recognised internationally for its work in neurosciences, spinal injuries, renal, cancer, transplantation, neurosciences and orthopaedics.

Thanks to the hard work and commitment of their staff and volunteers, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been given an overall rating of ‘Good’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) with many services rated as ‘Outstanding'.
This means the Trust is one of only 18 (out of 174 Trusts) to have achieved a Good rating in every one of the five domains which the Care Quality Commission use to rate a NHS organisation: Safe, Caring, Responsive, Well led, Effective
They are proud to be one of the top 20% of NHS Trusts for patient satisfaction and to have consistently high numbers of our staff and patients who would recommend the Trust for care and as a place to work.

The Trust is a recognised leader in medical research for bone, cardiac, neurosciences and long term conditions such as diabetes and lung disease. We also play a key role in the training and education of medical, nursing and dental students with our academic partners, including the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam. The Trust is a recognised leader in healthcare innovation and is host to a number of national projects including the Perfect Patient Pathway Test Bed, Devices for Dignity, Yorkshire and Humber Genomics Centre as well as being a partner in the Working Together Vanguard and National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine.


For further information please contact:

Amy Pullan
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859