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Heart Disease Health Center

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Smoking, Heart Attack Linked in People in 30s

Heart Attack Risk Is 5 Times Greater Among Smokers Aged 35-39
WebMD Health News

Aug. 23, 2004 -- Smoking and heart attack go together all too often - and not just among older smokers. A large international study shows that smokers aged 35-39 have five times the risk for heart attack than nonsmokers of the same age.

"Current smoking is the single most important factor behind an acute [heart attack] in young patients," write the study's authors in the journal Tobacco Control.

The findings are based on data gathered by the World Health Organization from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s from 32 populations in 21 countries.

Most populations were located in Europe, the U.K. and Russia, along with two in Australia and one each in Canada, China, New Zealand, and the U.S.

More than 22,000 nonfatal heart disease "events" were tracked, including more than 18,000 in men and about 4,000 in women. The study focused only on nonfatal heart attacks, since it wasn't possible to get complete data on people who died from heart attacks.

"People who had a non-fatal [heart attack] were far more likely to be current smokers than people in the general community," write the researchers, led by Markko Mahonen, MD, of Finland's National Public Health Institute.

The researchers found that the risk of having a heart attack was five times greater for male smokers aged 35-39 and almost five-and-a-half times greater for female smokers in the same age group.

Of all heart attack survivors aged 35-39, about 80% were smokers. About 50% of heart attacks in men and women younger than 50 years were attributed to smoking and were therefore preventable, write the authors.

There was not enough information on heart attack survivors under age 35 to draw conclusions.

Female smokers had higher risks than men, particularly in the older age groups. That might be because women are "more sensitive to smoking than men, an issue of recent controversy," write the researchers.

The good news for smokers is that stopping smoking can improve their odds. The risk of heart attack "decreases quite rapidly after quitting smoking," write the researchers.

Quitting smoking is often easier said than done. Many smokers make several attempts before successfully kicking the habit for good.

Public health programs and antismoking campaigns can help, say the researchers.

"Every effort should be put to use to make young people realize the true and imminent risks of smoking to prevent them to start smoking, and to help those already caught to quit smoking," they write.

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