By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Smoking, othe factors up heart attack risk
Health advice
Placeholder Image
No, it is not hard to quit smoking. It may be temporarily unpleasant and inconvenient, but it’s not really that difficult. Difficult is slowly drowning from emphysema or struggling with lung cancer or going through a massive heart attack. Of course, a stroke isn’t a picnic either.
If you or someone you love smokes, you or your loved one has a good chance of experiencing one — or more — of the above. Only then can anyone truly understand the huge difference between the discomfort caused by not smoking and the dreadful pain and disability that result from smoking.
More than half of all smokers will eventually fall prey to a smoking-related disease. And cardiovascular diseases are at the top of the list.
Researchers at Oxford University found that smokers who began smoking early (as teenagers) were especially likely to suffer an early heart attack.  Individuals between ages 30-49 were at a five times greater risk of heart attack than their non-smoking peers. Those between 50-59 had three times the risk, and smokers between 60-79 double the risk. Researchers concluded that the increased risk is greater among smokers under 50 because they have not lived long enough for other risk factors, like genetic predisposition to heart attacks or the effects of a high-fat diet, to take a toll.
The cardiovascular effects of smoking are many and include heart attacks, abdominal aortic aneurysms, peripheral vascular disease and high blood pressure, which leads to strokes.  Why are smokers at higher risk for heart attacks? Because smoking causes an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol, which causes clogging of arteries — particularly those that provide oxygen and nutrients to the heart. Smoking also decreases HDL (good) cholesterol. The condition, called atherosclerosis, is a buildup of cholesterol plaque on the arteries’ inner walls. This narrows the channel through which blood flows.
When the blockages are complete, part of the heart muscle starts to die and a heart attack results. If you’re lucky, the damage won’t be extensive and the heart will survive. But a half million people each year in the United States don’t survive heart attacks.
Other heart attack risk factors include:
• High blood cholesterol
• High blood pressure
• Physical inactivity
• Diabetes
• Stress
• Obesity
The nation’s longest-running heart study suggests that about one heart attack in four produces no symptoms — or at least none that the victim associates with a heart problem. These so-called “silent heart attacks,” however, are the result of an underlying condition called “silent ischemia,” which is a chronic shortage of oxygen- and nutrient-bearing blood to a portion of the heart.
The condition puts victims at significant risk, and the absence of pain doesn’t mean an absence of damage. Further ischemia or another heart attack — even a mild to moderate one — may prove fatal because the reserve capacity is no longer present.
Whether you’ve had a heart attack, the wise thing to do when experiencing any symptoms is to call 911 or go to the hospital immediately.
Heart attack symptoms:
• Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes.
• Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms. The pain may be mild to intense. It may feel like pressure, tightness, burning or a heavy weight in the chest, upper abdomen, neck, jaw or inside the arms or shoulders.
• Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.
• Anxiety, nervousness and/or cold, sweaty skin.
• Paleness or pallor
• Increased or irregular heart rate
• Feeling of impending doom.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
Sign up for our e-newsletters