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Nov 18, 2014

Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Overlooked in Heart Patients

Secondhand smoke worsens outcomes for patients living with heart disease, but is often overlooked.

Although secondhand smoke worsens outcomes for patients living with heart disease, this risk factor is often overlooked by patients and providers, alike.

Exposure to secondhand smoke increases risk of heart disease by up to 30%. For patients already living with coronary heart disease, secondhand smoke has been shown to worsen outcomes, increasing risk for heart attack and even death. Still, little is being done to address this well-known cardiovascular risk factor, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, this study included 214 nonsmokers diagnosed with coronary heart disease—a dangerous build-up of plaque on the inner walls of the heart’s arteries that increases heart attack risk. After interviewing participants, researchers found that almost one-fourth of patients had exposure to secondhand smoke in the month prior to hospitalization and 14% of patients lived with a smoker.

However, many patients were unaware of the threat that secondhand smoke posed to their health. Although most patients knew secondhand smoke is harmful, 22% did not think secondhand smoke exposure increased their risk of heart attack and another 22% were unsure. Perhaps worse, half of the patients were “not at all” worried about their exposure to secondhand smoke.

But it wasn’t just patients that showed lack of awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke. Despite the fact that secondhand smoke exposure is especially dangerous for patients living with heart disease, only 17% of patients were asked about their exposure level and less than 2% were advised in the hospital to keep their home and car smoke free.

Based on their findings, researchers emphasize the importance of addressing the dangers of secondhand smoke more effectively to heart patients. In addition to improved screenings, authors encourage education to raise awareness about secondhand smoke exposure and the risk it poses to patients with and without heart disease. Although this issue is often overlooked in today’s practice, simple changes to help patients and providers address secondhand smoke can have a big impact on improving outcomes.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is secondhand smoke?
  • Secondhand smoke, also referred to as environmental tobacco smoke, includes the smoke that comes from the lighted end of a tobacco product (sidestream smoke) and the smoke exhaled by a smoker (mainstream smoke). Similar to tobacco use, secondhand smoke is a “known human carcinogen,” which means that it’s known to cause cancer.
  • What are the health consequences of secondhand smoke?
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke can have lasting health effects and research shows that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer, heart disease, asthma and many other serious health conditions.

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