Having a heart attack is a good incentive to quit smoking, but an international survey published on Thursday shows that only half of patients who have an attack manage to quit.
Dr. Wilma Scholte op Reimer, of the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, was stunned by the results of her survey.
“Half of patients who have cardiovascular disease do not quit smoking but continue to smoke after their event. That was a shocking result,” Scholte op Reimer said.
Smoking, along with high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and being overweight or obese, is a leading risk factor for heart disease — one of the world’s biggest killers.
Almost all of the 5,551 patients in 15 European countries questioned in the study had been advised it was dangerous to continue to smoke, but Scholte op Reimer believes they are not really aware of the risk they are taking.
People may think the damage has already been done, so there is no point in quitting smoking, but the opposite is true, researchers say.
If patients continue to smoke after a heart attack they have a higher risk of dying from another attack in the next 10 years.
“What many patients do not know is that if they stop smoking after a cardiovascular event the chance of having a fatal event within 10 years, or even after two or three years, would be on the same level as patients who did not smoke,” she explained.
The researchers questioned men and women who were treated for coronary heart disease during 1999-2000 about their smoking habits.
Just over 20 percent of patients were persistent smokers. Nearly 40 percent of those who did smoke were under 50, showing that young patients are less likely to quit.
Nearly all the patients had been advised by a doctor or nurse to quit, but only 48 percent had, according to the research published in the European Heart Journal.
“It is saddening to hear that even after a heart attack, one of life’s biggest health warnings, a large proportion of smokers don’t manage to give up,” said June Davison, spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation.
Scholte op Reimer said the best time to get the no-smoking message across to patients was right after a heart attack or surgery for heart disease.