Each Cigarette is a Smoke Bomb
Every cigarette a person smokes has the potential to trigger a fatal heart attack, researchers have discovered.
It's been known for years that regular smoking increases the long-term risk of heart disease.
But now, researchers have found the short-term risk of a heart attack is increased by smoking.
That's because each smoke appears to have a startling, almost instant, effect on the cardiovascular system.
"The most important thing a person can do to avoid a heart attack is to quit smoking," said Dr. Murray Mittleman of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
"There probably would be an immediate benefit."
In a study of heart-attack patients, his researchers found that those who had smoked within six hours of developing symptoms had bigger blood clots in their arteries than those who had not smoked for a longer period of time.
In general, the specific blood clot - or thrombus - that lead to the heart attack was larger in the smokers than in the nonsmokers.
Larger clots increase both the risk and severity of heart attacks because they are more likely to completely block blood flow to the heart. The less blood that gets to the heart, the more severe the damage.
The researchers studied 902 heart-attack patients in making their conclusions.
"Within five years of kicking the habit, smokers can . . . reduce their risk of heart disease by half," said anti-smoking campaigner Amanda Sandford.
"This research reflects the fact that it can never be too soon to quit. Smoking is like Russian roulette, with worse odds.
"We already know that smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack than nonsmokers."
The new research was presented at a conference of the American Heart Association.