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A new study shows that those individuals who are under the age of 50 and who smoke, have a more than 8 time increased risk of developing a heart attack when compared to those who don't smoke.

Previous clinical studies have shown that smokers presented with heart attacks, known as ST-segment elevation myocardial infarctions (STEMI), about 10 years earlier than non-smokers. It is well known that all people who smoke have an increased risk of developing a heart attack than those of the same age who don't smoke. What isn't clear is what the significance of that risk is, among different demographic groups, because there haven't been any studies conducted that looked at what the population trends were in individuals who smoked. 

The study

Researchers at the South Yorkshire Cardiothoracic Centre of Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, England collected and analyzed information on over 1,700 adults receiving treatment for STEMIs at this cardiothoracic centre from 2009 to 2012.

For reference purposes, a STEMI refers to the type of electrical pattern noted on an electrocardiogram (ECG), due to this type of heart attack, which shows that a large part of the heart muscle is perishing.

Data from the Office for National Statistics Integrated Household Survey for the South Yorkshire region was collected and analyzed by the researchers. Among other data, they looked for information on the smoking prevalence of these heart attack patients. 

The findings

It was found that nearly 49% of the over 1,700 patients were currently smokers, nearly 27% of these patients were former smokers and just above 24% were non-smokers.

This is where the information revealed that active smokers were up to 11 years younger than previous or non-smokers when they had their heart attacks.

The following deductions were also made from this data:

  • Current smokers, together with ex-smokers, were twice more likely than non-smokers to have had previous incidents of coronary artery disease.
  • Current smokers were also three times more likely than non-smokers to be diagnosed with peripheral vascular disease. This is a condition where there's damage to or narrowing of the blood vessels and this results in restricted blood flow to the peripheral limbs.
  • The overall predominance of smoking in the mentioned centre was just over 22%, with the highest being among those under the age of 50 (nearly 28%).
  • The major finding in this study was that among patients who had STEMIs, nearly 75% of them were under the age of 50.
In summary, active smokers were 3 times more likely to have a STEMI than previous and non-smokers combined. The patients who were at the highest risk of developing a STEMI were those under the age of 50, and their risk to develop this condition was nearly 9 times higher than previous and non-smokers of the same age. This risk decreased by 5 times among those between 50 and 65 years of age, and a 3 times reduction in patients over 65 years old.

The clinical significance

The researchers of the study were puzzled why younger smokers had a much higher risk of developing STEMIs since they didn't suffer from issues such as elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes and high blood pressure.

The deduction from these findings is that smoking is the single most important risk factor for the development of heart attacks. Health care workers are then urged to work hard at promoting the cessation of smoking tobacco products, or at least reduce the amount smoked every day, within their patients, especially younger smokers.
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