Women smokers 'cut their lives by 14 years' and risk heart attack at 66


Health warning: Women smokers can have a heart attack nearly 15 years earlier than female non-smokers

Women who smoke are likely to suffer a heart attack nearly 15 years earlier than those who don't, claim researchers.

Smokers can expect to have a heart attack on average around the age of 66 - although it can occur at a much younger age for some women, says a new study.

But a non-smoking woman could celebrate her 80th birthday before succumbing to an attack.

In contrast, men who smoke have a heart attack on average just six years earlier than male non-smokers.

New evidence shows the stark difference in the health of women in later life when heart disease becomes increasingly important as a cause of lost years through death and disability.

Smoking is the biggest cause of premature death from heart disease, claiming the lives of at least 50,000 women a year.

More than one in five adults in Great Britain is a smoker, with 23 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women smoking regularly.

The latest study looked at almost 1,800 patients admitted to Lillehammer Hospital, Norway, for a first heart attack from which they recovered and were discharged, or died in hospital between 1998 and 2005.

About one in three patients were women, ranging in age from 27 years to 103 years.

The researchers found the average age for a first attack among women who did not smoke was 80.7 years.

But women smokers were struck down at the age of 66.2 years - a difference of 14.5 years.

In men, the average age for a first heart attack among non-smokers was 72.2 years and 64 years in smokers - a difference of 6.2 years.

The age differences between smokers and non-smokers were 'highly significant' in both men and women, said lead researcher Dr Morten Grundtvig, who released the data yesterday at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Munich.

He said the number of years lost because of smoking - years when women would have expected to be free of heart problems - was doubled in women compared with men.

He said 'Smoking caused the first heart attack to occur significantly more prematurely in women than in men, implying that twice as many years were lost by women smokers as by men smokers.

'Smoking incurs a strong additional risk in women.'

The study appeared to settle the debate about whether smoking increases the risk of heart disease relatively more in women than men, he said.

'Women adopted the smoking habit historically later than men and the findings strongly indicate that a sex difference exists in the effect of smoking on coronary arteries' he added.

Although women have been giving up smoking, it is at a slower rate than men and there is concern about the number of girls who smoke.

Between 1992 and 2006 the proportion of women taking up the habit before their 16th birthday went up from 28 per cent to 36 per cent.

Dr Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said 'Smoking is the most significant cause of premature heart attack, so it must have a much greater impact on women.

'This study shows that it is even more important for women not to smoke, and they may be affected at ages much younger than their 60s.

'The good news is that stopping cuts the risk immediately and five years after quitting the heart disease risk is almost back to that of women who have never smoked.

'The best advice is not to start smoking but it's never too late to get the health benefits from quitting.'

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